Creative intelligence, disruption and courage are fundamental elements of innovation – without a dose of daring, nothing truly innovative would happen. And what has been bolder than women inventors throughout history?
Despite patriarchal barriers and society constantly signalling – sometimes forcefully – that they should choose a different life path, these women have changed the course of history and altered culture forever with their inventions and scientific contributions.
The following are three of these outstanding women who deeply inspire and guide my efforts when it comes to my work, creativity and overall resilience – which is a central topic at CES 2020 and a prerequisite for anyone who wishes to change the world so that we can build a desirable future.
Marie Curie (Image: Google)
The Polish-born, French-naturalised physicist and chemist Marie Curie is to this day the only woman in history to be a two-time recipient of the Nobel Prize, the first person to be nominated twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Price in different fields of research.
Born in 1867, her research on radioactivity granted her first Nobel Prize in Physics – which she declined to receive in person as a trip from Paris to Stockholm would take her away from her work for too long. Aside from the obvious hindrance of being a female academic in the 1800s, Curie had to deal with other impediments throughout her career; a lot more than her male-scientist counterparts, as one would imagine. In France – where her husband was from, and she moved to after marriage – she dealt with xenophobia and was harshly vilified by the right-wing press. Curie’s daughter’s once stated that there was such “hypocrisy in portraying Curie as an unworthy foreigner when she was nominated for a French honour, but portraying her as a French heroine when she received foreign honours such as her Nobel Prizes.”
After Curie’s husband died, she started another relationship with a man that was five years her junior – an age gap between consenting adults that nowadays would hardly make anyone blink an eye. Once again, the media attempted to use her personal life to obfuscate her brilliance in her work by calling her a “foreign Jewish home-wrecker”. Despite all of this, Curie became the first female professor at the University of Paris in 1906. In 1911, Curie was awarded her second Nobel Prize, this time in the field of Chemistry.
Rosalind Franklin (Image: Google)
Rosalind Franklin was a British chemist and x-ray crystallographer who was the first person to capture an image of molecules whilst using x-ray diffraction. Franklin’s work and discoveries – particularly what is known as “Photo 51” – were crucial in the discovery of the DNA double helix, which granted James Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkens – but not Franklin – a shared Nobel prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1962. For further reading on how Franklin’s discovery ended up granting nobility to three men, but not her, I suggest The Guardian’s article: “Sexism in science: did Watson and Crick really steal Rosalind Franklin’s data?“.
Franklin died in 1958, and all of the awards granted to her were posthumous.
Shirley Ann Jackson
Shirley Ann Jackson (Image: blackhistory.mit.edu)
Shirley Ann Jackson is an American theoretical physicist and the first African-American woman to be awarded a doctorate from MIT, in 1973. She was also the second African-American woman to earn a PhD in physics in the United States.
In the United States, by the early 1970s, the advances of the civil rights movement had combined with the rise of the feminist movement to create an African American women’s movement, and the National Black Feminist Organization was founded in 1973. In the late 70s, Jackson headed groundbreaking scientific research using subatomic particles. Jackson’s research is the basis today’s telecommunications: the portable fax, the touch-tone telephone, solar cells, fibre-optic cables, caller Id and call waiting have all been made possible based on Jackson’s research.
There are many more inspirational, accomplished, resilient female innovators in the history of the world, and many more to come. I stand in awe of these people who, against all the odds, have forever changed our society for the better.
If you’re interested in learning more about innovation and future building, visit Echos’ Designing Desirable Futures course page.
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