March 10


She Blinded Me With Science

By Celeste DeCamps

March 10, 2020

Grace Hopper, Hedy Lamarr, Shirley Ann Jackson, womeninscience

For March we are celebrating Women. I’m glad it’s only one month. The parties the first week alone have worn me out. What are we celebrating exactly? Our past, present and future successes? Our ability to face adversity and still find a way to achieve? Our ingenious way to hide our Oreos where no one could find them? Yes to all of it! 

We are finally getting the recognition we have deserved for a very long time. We still have a long way to go but our voices are being heard more than ever. I would like to add my two cents by recognizing three inventors: Hedy Lamarr, Shirley Ann Jackson, and Grace Hopper. I picked these women because their contributions to science and technology are very impressive. I thought it would be nice to give them a spotlight. 

Of course, Hedy Lamarr enjoyed the spotlight as a well- known beautiful actress. What is not known is her invention of Spread Spectrum Technology. This became the basis for today’s WIFI, GPS and Bluetooth communication systems. 

Hedy Lamarr left her first husband, Fritz Mandl when she was not allowed to pursue her acting career. She said, “I knew very soon that I could never be an actress while I was his wife. ... He was the absolute monarch in this marriage. ... I was like a doll. I was like a thing, some object of art which had to be guarded—and imprisoned—having no mind, no life of its own.” 

She escaped her husband and moved to London. She met Louis B. Mayer and was signed to MGM. In Hollywood, she became a famous movie star, but in her heart, she was an inventor. She worked with her composer and fellow inventor, George Anthiel. Together they developed a way to manipulate radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception. The result was a frequency hopping signal that could not be tracked or jammed. Her hope was this system would keep the Nazis from being able to jam torpedo signals. 

Lamarr and Anthiel did get a patent but the Navy wasn’t able to utilize the technology. The Navy did install an updated version of their design for use during the Cuban missile crisis. Lamarr and Anthiel were finally recognized for their scientific invention by the Electronic Frontier Foundation in 1997. Lamarr also became the first woman to receive the Invention Convention’s Bulbie Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award. Lamarr passed away in 2000. In 2014 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. 

Hedy Lamarr always felt that she would have been taken more seriously as an inventor if she hadn’t been so beautiful. This is something I can relate to.             (Go ahead and laugh). 

Shirley Ann Jackson is a remarkable woman who has made great contributions in the science world. She is a theoretical physicist. She worked at Bell Laboratories and through her research with subatomic particles enabled others to invent touch-tone telephones, portable fax, solar cells, fiber-optic cables and the technology behind caller ID and call waiting. Even with this technology my dad still announces who he is when he calls me. 

Jackson was the first African-American to receive a doctorate from MIT in any field in 1973, It was not easy. She had to deal with racism while working towards her degree. She came to MIT in 1964 and was among just a few other black students. She relayed this story: 

In the midst of working on her first physics problem set, she emerged from her room and noticed all the other first-year women on her floor out in a common area, working together. 

“If you know anything about MIT, you know that working the problem sets is a big deal,” she says. “So I gathered up my paperwork and said, ‘May I join you?’“One of them looked up and said, "Go away."“I said, ‘I’ve done half the problems already and I know how to do the other ones."“And another girl said, "Didn’t you hear her? She said go away.’”

And that was just the start. “It was pretty isolating,” Jackson says of her undergraduate years. Students avoided sitting next to her in lecture halls. If she joined others in the dining room, they would generally finish faster or skip their dessert. When that freshman study group rejected her, she went back to her room and cried. But after a while she told herself, “Well, I do have to hand in these physics problems.” So, she says, “I got myself together and finished the work.”

Shirley Ann Jackson would go on and serve as chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission appointed by President Clinton. She co-chaired President Obama’s President’s Intelligence Advisory Board and served on the boards of IBM and FedEx. Since 1999, she’s been president of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York.

In 2016, President Obama awarded her the National Medal of Science.

Shirley Ann Jackson has an incredible career of service to our country and I encourage you all to read more about her. You will be inspired. She is someone who continually encourages young people to get a great education and go after what they want.  

Grace Hopper is considered to be the mother of computing due to her development of the first computer compiler. Because of her work we have common business-oriented language or COBOL for short. This was the first standardized general business computer language. She believed that computers would one day be used by everyone and she wanted to make it as easy as possible. 

Hopper worked on Mark 1, the first large-scale automatic calculator and precursor of electronic computers. 

Here’s a little trivia for you. Hopper is responsible for "debugging" the computer. She coined the phrase after finding a moth inside a computer. I have to say I find this funny and fascinating. 

Grace Hopper became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in mathematics from Yale University in 1934. When World War II started she wanted to do her part and enlist. She was rejected for her small size and age. She persisted and was allowed to join the Navy Reserve. By the end of her Naval career she retired as a Rear Admiral. At the age of 79 she was the oldest serving officer in the U.S. Armed Forces.

In 1973, she became the first person from the United States and the first woman of any nationality to be made a Distinguished Fellow of the British Computer Society.

In a 1980 interview she explained, “What I was after in beginning English language [programming] was to bring another whole group of people able to use the computer easily … I kept calling for more user friendly languages. Most of the stuff we get from academicians, computer science people, is in no way adapted to people.”

Even with all of these accomplishments she had to constantly prove herself. 

She once said, "If you do something once, people will call it an accident. If you do it twice, they call it a coincidence. But do it a third time and you've just proven a natural law!"

Hopper was awarded the National Medal of Technology in 1991. With this, she became the first female individual recipient of the honor. She was the recipient of more than 40 honorary degrees, and many scholarships, professorships, awards, and conferences are named in her honor.

Grace Hopper was determined not to let anyone get in the way of her vision of creating a much wider audience for computing. 

It’s amazing how one person can do so much for so many. I hope you enjoyed reading about these women. I wanted to remind you take pride in your own work and accomplishments. We all have opportunities to help each other. We just have to believe that we all can make a difference for the better.

Happy Women’s Month!

About the author

Celeste DeCamps has a B.A. in Communications from the University of Miami. She worked in radio and television, was a professional belly dancer, drummer, percussionist, nightclub owner, and a sales rep for Southern Wine and Spirits for 12 years. Throughout her different career moves, speaking to and teaching women how to be more confident is Celeste's most fulfilling job.

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  1. Thank you. I thoroughly enjoyed your article and I learned a great deal about three extremely impressive women. Reading your piece also reminded me of three women depicted in the movie “Hidden Figures.” One more thing and I am not laughing; yes, you are beautiful.

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