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Celebrating female innovators shaping our world

March is Women’s History Month, when we recognize and celebrate the contributions women have made in American history — including many on the forefront of countless groundbreaking inventions in science and technology. Thousands of essential things around us were invented by women, like central heating. Over the course of history, women have had to battle for inclusion and recognition in male-dominated spaces. Let’s take a look at some of the female-led inventions we enjoy today.

Central heating

Central heating as we know it would not be the same without inventor Alice H. Parker (dates unknown). Though little is known about Parker’s life, including her dates of birth and death, her design for a natural gas-powered “heating furnace” was patented in 1919. The design allowed people to continually heat their homes with natural gas, instead of burning wood or coal in a traditional furnace.

Parker’s design was a clear precursor to the modern zone heating systems and thermostats we use today.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

It is difficult to imagine life today without Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000) was a dually talented inventor and Hollywood actress who made these technologies possible. During World War II Lamarr developed a communication system, now known as “frequency hopping,” that could not be intercepted by enemies. Her work with wireless technology, which eventually led to Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, was patented in 1942.

Though Lamarr’s invention was initially rejected by the US Navy, frequency hopping became the foundation for modern wireless technology.

In 2014, Lamarr was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

X-ray technology

While getting an x-ray isn’t something most people do every day, there’s no doubt the technology is lifesaving and essential. Modern medical imaging, including the use of x-rays, was made possible by the early discoveries of Barbara Askins (born 1939), an American chemist who began working for NASA in 1975. Her discoveries enhanced underexposed photographic negatives, increasing the limits in photographic detection. This made it possible to detect data from space images. NASA used her discoveries extensively for research and development work.

In 1978, Askins was named the National Inventor of the Year, the first woman to receive this honor.

Unsung heroes

While we recognize and celebrate incredible female inventors this month, we must also acknowledge the women who played pivotal roles behind the scenes in American history. For example, the Apollo 11 mission is one moment in our history that likely wouldn’t have been possible without the contributions of women like Margaret Hamilton, who developed the critical onboard flight software for six landing missions between 1969 and 1972. Margaret and other unsung heroes should be celebrated, even if their contributions aren't often in the spotlight. As we reflect on the significance of this month, we can recognize all women whose hard work paved the way for a future generation of women in STEM.

These are just a few examples of the amazing women who shape our world. Supporting girls and women in STEM is important to us, and we’re also on a mission to empower the next generation of female scientists and inventors. That’s why we created The Power Chronicles, an engaging graphic novel that educates and inspires girls in grades 5-8 to pursue careers in STEM fields. Check it out here

Kaitlyn is an intern with the External Communications Team. She is a student at The University of Iowa, studying Journalism & Mass Communication and Event Management. Kaitlyn is passionate about sustainability and is eager to help tell Alliant Energy’s story in their journey to create a better future.

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