Some of the great innovation of our time have been discovered or invented by women and yet we still live in a society that does not recognize them for what they have contributed to the world of technology. There are actually many women I could write about but because of space limits I will focus only on two, one well known and the other completely unknown. Both have had a major impact for humanity’s sake.
Last March 8th the world celebrated International Women’s Day. Can you believe that we only set aside one day for this event while the other 365 (in 2016) is basically International Men’s Day? When talking to my wife about this, she doesn’t need a special day of recognition because very day is a women’s day and together, we celebrate that fact.
Men have always had a dominate role in the world of energy (fuel). However, women have been central to the nuclear story from the very beginning. It was that great scientist, Irène Joliot-Curie, who pioneered research into radioactivity, which laid the ground for the discovery of nuclear fission and earned her a Nobel Prize. She was the less famous daughter of perhaps the most well-known woman scientist of all, Marie (Madame) Curie.
For a while, a unit of radioactivity was measure as a ‘curie’ but has since been popularized with the use of ‘becquerel’, named after Henri Becquerel (who worked with Madame Curie), by the International System of Units. The Becquerel was an easier way to define a unit of radioactivity.
Nuclear energy has such great potential and has not even come close to being fully utilized yet. There are many more women just getting started in new innovations of all things nuclear starting with: the manipulation of atoms via nano-technology for new material structures, fission of atoms via new liquid reactor designs for clean and safe electrification of the entire world, and fusion of atoms for the future’s energy use here on earth and elsewhere in the universe.
There is another energy source that has been exploited in parts of the world where centralized energy systems (nuclear, coal, gas) are not practical because of infrastructure requirements. An Israeli-women led organization, Innovation: Africa, has deployed clean power technology to African communities living off-grid. They now have over one million people connected to a reliable supply of power and water to date. Innovation doesn’t always mean some new product, but can also mean a new process.
Founded by Sivan Ya’ari, the organization has delivered Israeli solar technology and agricultural equipment to communities in Malawi, Uganda, Tanzania and South Africa, Ethiopia, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While the rest of the world knows little about Sivan, millions in Africa know and appreciate her nurturing ways to help others. Installed solar power systems are contributing to the key functioning of many communities; making refrigeration possible for healthcare facilities and grocers, allowing people to study at night and charge their mobile phones—expanding their scope for learning through the internet and of course, there is power for clean drinking water and crop irrigation.
Women have made great strides over the last century and one would think that the new millennial would have equalized or exceeded the status of men, especially in the technology sectors of our societies. But that hasn’t happened yet. One of the primary reasons is that women lack the confidence even though they have the talent and skills to get ahead. Sexism is still part of society, even among the millennial.
Many women do not know how to demand what they deserve, or see themselves as somehow as good or deserving as men. A good role model for this was Jennifer Lawrence’s outrage on social media when some hackers exposed the salaries of her male co-actors in a recent film. She decided to negotiate equal pay from now on, something that she assumed was occurring. Granted, when you are making millions per film, it doesn’t seem as important, but it is.
While technology companies can implement more diversity programs, the basics always come back to the educational system. STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) must be taught from pre-school through high school, tech school and college. It seems like women have always dominated the basic educational teaching years, but more recently are dominating the student population of higher education. Unfortunately, there are still cultures in this world where women are oppressed from learning and this has to evolve with the rest of humanity.
We live in a technology society that is getting more complex very day. Most people have already accepted using something technical even without knowing how it works. We just accept the magic. What will happen when technology starts to innovate itself and we are all left behind? That day may never come, but then again, it may.