Living Women Inventors

Here are some living women inventors whose ideas produced products used by NASA, home owners, computer companies and in many other fields.

Sally Fox
• Year of birth: 1955
• Birthplace: Menlo Park, California
• Occupation: Inventor/businesswoman/entomologist
• Invention: Inventor of commercially viable fiber-colored cotton.
Colored cotton had been grown for thousands of years but was not suitable for modern textile machines and had to be spun by hand. While working as a pollinator for a farmer seeking more pest-resistant cotton, Fox began breeding brown and green cotton. It took her eight years to develop plants that were uniform in color and size as well as commercially viable. Because it doesn’t need to be dyed, colored cotton needs minimal processing and is more environmentally friendly.

Temple Grandin
• Year of birth: 1947
• Birthplace: Boston, Massachusetts
• Occupation: Inventor/teacher
• Invention: Animal-handling devices
She has designed animal restraint systems that rely on behavioral principles rather than the use of force. Grandin studied how cattle react to ranchers and various stimuli, and designed stockyards and chutes that reduce stress and injury. Today, almost half the cattle in North America are handled or slaughtered using equipment designed by her.

Joy Mangano
• Year of birth: 1956
• Birthplace: East Meadow, New York
• Occupation: Businesswoman
• Invention: Self-wringing Miracle Mop
Joy Mangano invented the self-wringing Miracle Mop and made it a best seller on shopping channel QVC in 1992. She went on to develop numerous consumer products and sold her business, Ingenious Designs, to the Home Shopping Network (HSN) in 1999. She holds more than 100 patents and trademarks and has been successful as a businesswoman and engrepreneur.

Valerie Thomas
• Year of birth: 1942
• Birthplace: Maryland
• Occupation: Scientist
• Invention: Illusion transmitter
Valerie Thomas invented the illusion transmitter, which uses concave mirrors to create optical illusion images. After majoring in physics at Morgan State University, Thomas began her career at NASA. When she worked on Landsat, the first satellite to transmit images from outer space, saw the need for a technology that would deliver three-dimensional images. The illusion transmitter was patented in 1980 and is still used by NASA today. Scientists are seeking to incorporate it into technology that will give surgeons three-dimensional views of the human body.

Olga D. González-Sanabria
• Year of birth: N/A
• Birthplace: Patillas, Puerto Rico
• Occupation: Scientist/inventor
• Invention: Long-life nickel hydrogen batteries
Olga González-Sanabria played a key role in the development of the long-life nickel hydrogen battery, used to power the International Space Station. A native of Puerto Rico, she joined NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland in 1979 and has held a number of senior positions there.

Janet Emerson Bashen
• Year of birth: 1957
• Birthplace: Mansfield, Ohio
• Occupation: Businesswoman
• Invention: Software to secure documents
Janet Emerson Bashen, founder, chief executive officer, and president of human resources company Bashen Corp., in 2006 became the first African American woman in the U.S. to receive a software patent. She and a cousin developed LinkLine, a web-based application that stores and retrieves information pertaining to Equal Employment Opportunity cases.

Jeanne Lee Crews
• Year of birth: 1939
• Birthplace: United States
• Occupation: Inventor/scientist
• Invention: Bumper to shield satellites from space debris
Jeanne Crews joined NASA in 1964 — one of the first women engineers to do so — and began working on the problem of protecting satellites and manned craft from space debris. She developed the “space bumper,” a multi-layered shield that is as light but stronger than aluminum and is still in use on the International Space Station.

Margaret Hamilton
• Year of birth: 1936
• Birthplace: Paoli, Indiana
• Occupation: Computer scientist
• Invention: Software development
Margaret Hamilton led the Software Engineering Division at the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory that developed guidance and navigation software for the Apollo space program. The software was critical to the success of the Apollo missions and was adapted for use in Skylab, the Space Shuttle and the first digital fly-by-wire systems in aircraft. Hamilton coined the very term “software engineering.”

Patricia Billings
• Year of birth: 1926
• Birthplace: Clinton City, Missouri
• Occupation: Sculptor/inventor/businesswoman
• Invention: Geobond-replacement for asbestos
Sculptor Patricia Billings invented Geobond to prevent her works from shattering. She knew that sculptors during the Renaissance used a cement additive to make their plaster more durable and wanted to create a modern version. After years of experimentation, Billings developed Geobond, which creates an indestructible plaster when mixed with gypsum and concrete. What’s more, it is fireproof and non-toxic and thus a practical alternative to asbestos.

Lynn Conway
• Year of birth: 1938
• Birthplace: Mount Vernon, New York
• Occupation: Computer scientist
• Invention: Pioneer of microelectronics chip design
Lynn Conway is more than an inventor — she’s a revolutionary. Along with Carver Mead, Conway is credited with the Mead & Conway revolution, a design process for the integrated circuits that make microchips. She also invented generalized dynamic instruction handling, which is used to improve computer processor performance.

Erna Schneider Hoover
• Year of birth: 1926
• Birthplace: Irvington, New Jersey
• Occupation: Mathematician
• Invention: Invented computerized telephone switching method
While working at Bell Labs in New Jersey, mathematician Erna Hoover invented a way to monitor the frequency of incoming calls and prioritize tasks so as to avoid overloading phone switches. In 1971, she received a patent for a Feedback Control Monitor for Stored Program Data Processing System — one of the first software patents ever issued — and the principles of her invention are still applied in telecommunications equipment today. Hoover also worked on radar control programs for the interception of intercontinental ballistic missile warheads.

Nancy Perkins
• Year of birth: N/A
• Birthplace: N/A
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Invented and improved various household appliances
Nancy Perkins has made a career out of either inventing or improving household appliances. Perkins holds patents for various household items such as a rotary grater for cheese, an upright vacuum cleaner, a buffet server, and a slow cooker, to name just a few.

Edith Marie Flanigen
• Year of birth: 1929
• Birthplace: Buffalo, New York
• Occupation: Chemist
• Invention: Invented or developed over 200 different synthetic substances
Edith Flanigen has been described as one of the most inventive chemists of all time. Over her 42-year career with Union Carbide, she invented more than 200 synthetic substances and was awarded more than 100 patents. Flanigen is known for her work on molecular sieves, which can filter or separate complex substances, and in particular zeolite Y, which is used to refine petroleum. She also co-invented a synthetic emerald that was used in masers, predecessors of lasers, and jewelry.

Inventions of Amazing Women

Women have made great strides in many fields that previously – and to some degree still – were considered the domain of men. Culture, gender bias and stereotyping play into this lack of recognition. Not all of the women on the list were trained scientists when they made their mark.

Here are living women inventors whose ideas produced simple, low-cost products used in disasters and rural areas across the world.

Ann Moore
• Year of birth: 1934
• Birthplace: Ohio
• Occupation: Inventor/nurse
• Invention: Snugli and Weego child carriers
Ann Moore invented the Snugli and Weego baby carriers after working as a pediatric nurse with the Peace Corps in Togo, where she saw mothers carrying their babies in fabric slings. Her creations allow parents to carry babies safely and securely while keeping their hands free to do different things. These baby carriers promote intimacy and bonding as well. Moore also invented the AirLift oxygen carrier, a soft mesh backpack that allows people on oxygen more mobility.

Deepika Kurup
• Year of birth: 1998
• Birthplace: Nashua, New Hampshire
• Occupation: Inventor/scientist/social entrepreneur
• Invention: Water purification system
Deepika Kurup is the youngest entrant on our list — she is currently a student at Harvard University. While still a teenager, after seeing children drinking dirty water in India, she invented a purification system that uses solar energy to remove contaminants from water.

Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta
• Year of birth: Stork: 1987; Sreshta: N/A
• Birthplace: Stork: Chicago, Illinois; Sreshta: Houston, Texas
• Occupation: Inventor/entrepreneur Inventors/entrepreneurs
• Invention: Solar-powered inflatable light
Anna Stork and Andrea Sreshta were graduate students at Columbia University when they invented the LuminAID, an inflatable, waterproof, solar-powered light as part of a disaster relief project after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. Their product provides light for 16 hours and requires six hours of daylight to charge. Stork and Sreshta used a crowdfunding campaign to begin making the LuminAID and started a Give Light Project to donate a light for every one purchased

Jessica Matthews
• Year of birth: 1988
• Birthplace: Poughkeepsie, New York
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Invented soccer ball that generates electricity for an attachable reading lamp.
While studying at Harvard University, Nigerian-American Jessica Matthews invented the Soccket, a soccer ball that generates electricity for an attachable reading lamp. She went on to found Uncharted Power, which specializes in harnessing kinetic energy to power microgrids for communities around the world.

Amy Smith
• Year of birth: 1962
• Birthplace: Lexington, Massachusetts
• Occupation: Engineer
• Invention: Developed a way to turn sugar-cane fibers into clean-burning charcoal
Amy Smith is the director of MIT’s D-Lab, which focuses on producing appropriate technologies for the developing world. Described as “a practitioner of humanitarian engineering,” Smith has come up with a series of inventions to help rural families. These include a way to turn sugar-cane fibers, found in countries such as Haiti, into clean-burning charcoal by carbonizing it. Other inventions include a hammer mill for grinding grain into flour and a portable kit to test water for contamination.

Emily Jane Cummins
• Year of birth: 1987
• Birthplace: Keighley, United Kingdom
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Invented pullable water carrier for manual workers
Emily Cummins is another woman dedicated to improving lives in the developing world. She invented a water carrier made largely of tree branches that can take up to five containers held in place by surplus inner tubes. The water carrier can be adapted to carry firewood or other loads and can be recycled at the end of its life. Cummins also designed a sustainable refrigerator consisting of two metal cylinders with sand or another material in between. This material is then soaked in water and evaporation cools the inner cylinder and its contents. The refrigerator is not complicated to make, doesn’t need electricity, and can use dirty water.

Nobelungu Mashinini
• Year of birth: 1948
• Birthplace: Embalenhle Township in Secunda, South Africa
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Invented cleaner method to burn coal domestically
Nobelungu Mashinini, known affectionately as “Granny Mashinini,” introduced a way to build coal fires that emit far less smoke than the traditional method. The smoke from coal fires, which are used for heating in many South African communities, has been linked to increased respiratory disease, especially among children. Instead of layering coal over a base of paper, Mashinini began her fires with coal, and then added a layer of paper and a few pieces of wood. Mashinini’s system of “making fire like the granny” has been taught to households across the country and has had a huge impact on the winter air quality.

Ann Makosinski
• Year of birth: 1997
• Birthplace: Victoria, Canada
• Occupation: Inventor/public speaker
• Invention: Invented Hollow Flashlight
Canadian Ann Makosinski won the 2013 Google Science Fair for inventing the Hollow Flashlight, a light powered by the heat of the human hand. She also invented eDrink, a mug that uses human-powered energy to charge a phone.


Medical Innovations by Women

Women have made great strides in many fields that previously – and to some degree still – were considered the domain of men, such as law and medicine.

There are scores of accomplished women who have not been acknowledged for their achievements in a variety of fields. Culture, gender bias and stereotyping play into this lack of recognition. Here’s a look at some of the women who have made outstanding contributions in medicine.

Barbara S. Askins
• Year of birth: 1939
• Birthplace: Belfast, Tennessee
• Occupation: Chemist
• Invention: Used radioactive material to enhance images from space
Barbara Askins is a NASA scientist. She is best known for inventing in the 1970s a method to enhance photographs taken from space. Prior to Askins’ inventions, these photographs were often blurred or lacked definition. By exposing negatives to radiation Askins was able to produce images with greater density and contrast. Her invention had applications outside space exploration. It was used to improve the clarity of X-rays – which meant getting readable X-rays while exposing patients to less radiation – and to restore old photographs.

Patricia Bath
• Year of birth: 1942
• Birthplace: New York City, New York
• Occupation: Ophthalmologist/inventor
• Invention: Laser tool to treat cataracts
Patricia Bath is best known as the inventor of the Laserphaco Probe, a device that uses laser technology to treat cataracts. Bath is a pioneer in other regards as well. She was the first African American to complete a residency in ophthalmology, the first female faculty member in the Department of Ophthalmology at UCLA’s Jules Stein Eye Institute and the first African American female doctor to receive a patent. She is an advocate for the use of telemedicine to bring medical services to remote areas. In 2007, the Daily Telegraph named her one of the top 100 living geniuses.

Ruane Sharon Jeter
• Year of birth: 1959
• Birthplace: Los Angeles, California
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Invented toaster with a digital timer
Ruane Jeter is nothing if not versatile — she has several patents for medical devices, including a disposable scalpel, a drug cartridge and a self-injection device. She also invented a toaster with a digital timer that allows users to choose how well they want their bread toasted. She collaborated with her sister, Sheila, to develop a multi-functional machine that included a stapler, staple remover, pencil sharpener and other features.

Ann A. Kiessling
• Year of birth: 1942
• Birthplace: Baker City, Oregon
• Occupation: Reproductive biologist
• Invention: Groundbreaking work in stem research, in vitro fertilization
Ann Kiessling discovered reverse transcriptase – converting RNA to DNA – in normal human cells in 1979. Prior to this, it was assumed that reverse transcriptase was an enzyme found only in retroviruses such as HIV. Her research into eggs and embryos led to advances in Human In Vitro Fertilization (IVF).

Hayat Sindi
• Year of birth: 1967
• Birthplace: Mecca, Saudi Arabia
• Occupation: Biochemist
• Invention: Penny-size paper detects disease by analyzing bodily fluids
Hayat Sindi was born in Saudi Arabia, a country where women until last year could not even drive and where they have limited choices in education and career. Sindi persuaded her family to let her go to school in the United Kingdom. She studied pharmacology at King’s College London and biotechnology at the University of Cambridge. She holds patents for a simple, low-tech diagnostic tool that could significantly change medical treatment in poor countries. The small, paper-like device detects disease by analyzing bodily fluids such as saliva, urine, or blood.

Esther Sans Takeuchi
• Year of birth: 1953
• Birthplace: Kansas City, Missouri
• Occupation: Chemical engineer
• Invention: Developed Li/SVO batteries
In 1987, materials scientist and chemical engineer Esther Sans Takeuchi developed lithium/silver vanadium oxide (Li/SVO) batteries for implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs). These were much smaller than the previously used batteries and lasted up to five times as long, making ICDs easier to implant and reducing the need for replacement surgery. Takeuchi, a distinguished professor in the chemistry department at Stony Brook University and a chief scientist at Brookhaven National Laboratory, holds almost 150 patents.

Ann Tsukamoto
• Year of birth: 1952
• Birthplace: California
• Occupation: Scientist
• Invention: Invented process to isolate human stem cells
Ann Tsukamoto played a key role in the development of a method to isolate human stem cells. Stem cells are unspecialized cells capable of renewing themselves through division. Under certain conditions, they can be induced to become tissue or organ-specific cells with special functions, thus serving as an internal repair system. Tsukamoto’s work has led to great advances in stem cell research and could further advance cancer and other diseases research.

Laura van ‘t Veer
• Year of birth: 1957
• Birthplace: The Netherlands
• Occupation: Molecular biologist
• Invention: Gene-based tissue test for breast cancer
Laura van ‘t Veer invented a gene-based tissue test that enables targeted treatment of breast cancer. By providing a more reliable prognosis, patients and doctors are better able to decide whether chemotherapy is necessary.

Flossie Wong-Staal
• Year of birth: 1947
• Birthplace: China
• Occupation: Molecular biologist
• Invention: Helped genetic mapping of HIV virus
Molecular biologist Flossie Wong-Staal was born in China and came to the United States by way of Hong Kong. After attending the University of California in Los Angeles, she began working at the National Cancer Institute. In 1983, Wong-Staal and her colleagues, simultaneously with French researchers, discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS. Wong-Staal was the first person to clone HIV. This led to a genetic map of the virus and ultimately to a blood test for it. She later co-founded itherX Pharmaceuticals Inc. and serves as chief scientific officer and executive vice president of research and development. The Institute for Scientific Information named Wong-Staal the top woman scientist of the 1980s. In 2007, the Daily Telegraph named her one of the top 100 living geniuses.

Rachel Zimmerman
• Year of birth: 1972
• Birthplace: Ontario, Canada
• Occupation: Inventor
• Invention: Blissymbol Printer
When she was only 12, Rachel Zimmerman invented the Blissymbol Printer as part of a project for a school science fair. The device enables disabled people to communicate using a computer. The software program translates Blissymbols – a picture language developed by Charles Bliss to help those with cerebral palsy communicate – into printed language on a computer screen. This allows physically challenged people to communicate with others. Zimmerman now works at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.