6 Women Who Changed the Face of STEM

It has been noted that the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) remain predominantly male with only about 30% female participation worldwide. However, in history, there are women without whom much advancement in STEM may not have been possible. Below are 6 women who completely changed the face of STEM forever.

1. Augusta Ada King Lovelace

This British woman is famously known as the world’s first computer programmer, Ada’s work with Babbage’s Analytical Engine is widely considered to be the foundation on which computer algorithms were built.

Ada, from early on showed great interest in mathematics and was thankfully allowed to pursue her studies diligently. This brought her into contact with many great scientists including Charles Babbage with whom she had a long working relationship.

She was particularly fascinated with his work on Analytical Engines and her notes on the Analytical Engines inspired the creation of the first modern computer.

2. Katherine Johnson

Katherine Johnson was the African-American woman notably known as the mathematician whose work on trajectory analysis for NASA was vital to the success of the first US space flight.

Katherine worked briefly as a teacher after graduating before getting a job at NACA as a “computer”. Her knowledge of analytic geometry boosted her career till she eventually rose to the position of aerospace technologist at NASA after it replaced NACA.

Her complex manual calculations were crucial to the success of many space missions at NASA including the first American orbit, the Mercury mission, the Apollo 11, the Apollo 13 and others. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barrack Obama.

3. Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper is an American woman who is indisputably famous in the field of technology as one of the first computer programmers to work on Harvard Mark I. 

A United States naval officer and a renowned computer scientist, Hopper was the first person to discover the world’s first real computer bug. She also recommended the development of a programming language that would be written entirely in English and although her idea was rejected by most people, she went on to build the first complier in 1952.

This invention led to the development of COBOL, which is still being used today in the field of data processing.

4. Annie Easley

Easley was another NASA scientist whose knowledge and vital work laid the foundations for many future space shuttle launches.

During her 34 year career at NASA, she contributed to the success of several projects including the analysis of alternative power technologies, the Centaur rocket project and the energy conversion system.

She was also a pioneer for gender and racial diversity in STEM.

5. Radia Perlman

Perlman is an American woman best known for inventing the Spanning Tree Protocol (STP) and is nicknamed “Mother of the Internet”.

Perlman got a part-time job at LOGO lab as an undergraduate at MIT. There, she developed TORTIS, a child-friendly version of the LOGO robotics language. She got involved with designing network protocols as a graduate student and invented the STP later while working as a consulting engineer in 1988. The invention of the STP was vital to the creation of today’s internet.

She has delivered many keynote speeches, authored several books and is currently a computer programmer at Dell.

6. Karen Spärck-Jones

Known as the pioneer of information science, Karen Spärck -Jones was a British woman who was the first person to develop the Inverse Document Frequency (IDF).

The IDF estimates the importance of a word to a document and it is now used in web search engines to rank documents by relevance.

Her work is the most highly cited in her field and she received a Lovelace Medal in 2007.

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