Women's History Month: The 10 Most Influential Women in Electrical Engineering

Written by a Guest Contributor

The 10 Most Influential Women in Electrical Engineering

Women's History Month is an annual declared month that highlights the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia, corresponding with International Women's Day on March 8, and during October in Canada, corresponding with the celebration of Persons Day on October 18.

The engineering field is undoubtedly dominated by men, and the electrical engineering field is no different. While electricity had been of interest long before its successful development, electrical engineering did not exist until the 19th century. In just this short amount of time, many women have given significant contributions to the field. These women were successful, brilliant, and courageous, and their impact on the industry is still felt today.

This short article chronicles a list of the top ten most influential of these women, with regard to the work they have done in this lofty field of electrical engineering, which impacted and has continued to impact this field up until the present day.

Top 10 most influential women in electrical engineering

1. Claire F. Gmachl

Claire Gmachl (1967-) is best known for her development of the quantum cascade laser. She is also the director of the new Mid-Infrared Technologies for Health and Environment Center.

These lasers emit the mid-far infrared portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. This range was not demonstrated until 1994. Typical semiconductor lasers emit electromagnetic radiation through the recombination of electron-hole pairs across a band cap. On the other hand, quantum cascade lasers are unipolar, and emission is achieved by intersubband transitions in a stack of semiconductor multiple quantum well heterostructures.

Gmachl has demonstrated mid-infrared light sources for many applications. These lasers can detect trace gases in environmental, medical, and industrial applications, as well as free-space optics for wireless communications.

2. Claire J. Tomlin

Claire Tomlin (1969-) currently works as a professor at both Stanford University and UC Berkeley. She works in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics, as well as the Department of Electrical Engineering. Her research is focused on unmanned aerial vehicles and air traffic control.

Unmanned aerial vehicle.
Image Source: https://stocksnap.io/photo/F1JFXCCJ51
Tomlin has published papers on a variety of topics from topics on air traffic flow and control theory to unmanned aerial systems. Her work is particularly notable, currently, because of the rise in civil and military unmanned vehicles.

Tomlin’s areas of research range from hybrid control systems and air traffic control automation to unmanned aerial vehicle design and control. Tomlin has earned many awards, including the MacArthur Fellowship, MIT Technology Review’s Top 100 Innovators, National Academy of Engineering Frontiers of Engineering Program, Distinguished Teaching Award, Electrical Engineering, and the Engineering Alumni Achievement Medal.

3. Hertha Marks Ayrton

Ayrton (1854-1923) is most known for her work on electric arcs. She attended Girton College, Cambridge where she studied mathematics and took classes on electricity at Finsbury Technical College. In 1885, she began studying electric arcs.

Electric arc lighting.
Image Source: https://stocksnap.io/photo/CN7PZ9F1M6
Electric arc lighting was used widely in public arenas, and these lights often flickered and hissed. As a result, she wrote several articles and papers and was the first woman to present her findings before the Institution of Electrical Engineers.

In the UK, her application to the Council of the Royal Society was denied because “a married woman could not become a fellow,” but she nonetheless was awarded the Hughes Medal for her experimental investigation and founded the International Federation of University Women and the national Union of Scientific Workers.

4. Caroline Haslett

Haslett (1895-1957) was the first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society in the UK and the founder of its journal. During the First World War, Haslett had basic engineering training in London. Haslett also helped to found an engineering firm for women by the name of Atalanta.

Haslett and the Women’s Engineering Society gained the attention of the public when it organized a special conference. This conference was created alongside the First International Conference of Women in Science and was opened by the Duchess of York.

Haslett was the only woman to delegate to the World Power Conference in Berlin 1930, and she was involved in many public, educational, and social rights activities. She became the first woman to be a Companion of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and later became a member of the British Electricity Authority. She was considered a safety expert in the field of electrical engineering.

5. Grace Hopper

Grace Hopper (1906-1992) was a computer scientist and Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy. She earned her Bachelor’s degree from Vassar College, in mathematics and physics, and later earned her Master’s and Ph.D. from Yale. She was one of the first programmers to develop the Harvard Mark I Computer, the UNIVAC I, COBOL, and FORTRAN. She excelled in programming languages, compilers, and automatic programming.

Computer programming
She was awarded the American Association of University Women Achievement Award and was posthumously awarded a Presidential Medal of Freedom for her accomplishments.

6. Naomi Halas

At Rice University, Halas is the professor of Biomedical Engineering, Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, and director of Laboratory Nanophotonics. She is the leading force behind the research and development of nanotechnology and plasmonics.

She takes her expertise in nanotechnology and works to find practical applications for her feats of electrical engineering and technology. Currently, Halas and her team are exploring the applications of nanoshells. They have found that injecting these tiny bits of nanotechnology can help to destroy cancerous tissue.

7. Kristina M. Johnson

Kristina M. Johnson (1957-) received her B.S., M.S, and Ph.D. in electrical engineering. She has led the development of optoelectronic processing systems, 3-D imaging, and color management systems. She was the first woman awarded with the International Dennis Gabor Award in modern optics. Johnson has also received the John Fritz Medal and was elected to the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Johnson served as the Dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, and the director of the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Optoelectronics. She is also the founder of Enduring Hydro, a hydropower-focused energy firm. Johnson is a huge proponent of STEM education in the United States.

8. Esther M. Conwell

Esther Conwell (1922-2014) is renowned for her pioneering work as a chemist and physicist, and her research and development with semiconductors. Conwell revolutionized modern computing with her work in discovering how electrons travel through semiconductors.

Conwell was a member of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, and she received many awards. In 1997, she received the IEEE Edison Medal for her contributions to transport theory in both semiconductor and organic conductors.

9. Yoky Matsuoka

Yoky Matsuoka (1972-) received her B.S., M.S., and Ph.D. in electrical engineering and computer science. She is most well-known for her work in designing and creating a lifelike robotic hand. This was modeled precisely after the human hand, and she explores the relationship between electric currents and nervous system signals. She also developed the microcode for the BarrettHand.

Matsuoka also worked as an assistant professor at Carnegie Mellon and received a Presidential Early Career Award for Scientists and Engineers. She has been recognized for her multidisciplinary work. She is now CTO of Nest, a smart-home subsidiary of Apple.

10. Edith Clarke

Edith Clarke (1883-1959) was the first woman to earn an M.S. in Electrical Engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Clarke became an electrical engineer at General Electric and, during her spare time, she developed the Clarke Calculator. This device solved equations using electric voltage, current, and impedance in power transmissions.

In 1926, Clarke became the first woman to create and deliver a paper at the American Institute of Electrical Engineers’ annual meeting. She also completed a textbook in 1943 and later became the first female electrical engineering professor in the entire country.

She was the first female Fellow of the American Institute of Electrical Engineers. In 1954, Clarke was awarded the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award. Clarke was posthumously inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2015.

Related: Top women scholarships for international students

Author Bio
Written by Carl Babb. Carl is the Content Manager of a blogging gig over at Relectric.com and has written this article piece on "The 10 Most Influential Women in Electrical Engineering" for www.StudyAndScholarships.com as his part of his contributions in supporting and honoring women during the celebration of the Women's History Month of March 2017

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