Female of the Species

All too often the achievements in Australia have a qualifier attached. It isn’t the biggest wind farm in the world, but it is the biggest wind farm in the Southern Hemisphere. It isn’t the tallest ferris wheel in the world, but it is the tallest ferris wheel in the Southern Hemisphere. It isn’t the longest jetty, but it is the longest wooden jetty in the Southern Hemisphere.

When all the achievements in a list are qualified in that way, it diminishes the sense of achievement. In this case, suggesting that all the best stuff is in the Northern Hemisphere, but if you’re stuck in the Southern Hemisphere, then perhaps Australia is not too bad a place to be.

This Sunday (8th March) is International Women’s Day. In honour of that, I thought I’d put together a list of a few brilliant people whose achievements aren’t qualified by being the “first woman to”, but who are simply outstanding. And who happen to be women. So, it’s worth shining a bit of extra light on their achievements at this time of the year.

Angela Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) was a musician and dancer. She considered ballet “ugly and against nature”, so pretty much went off and created modern dance. She founded several schools that spread her approach to barefoot, improvised dancing, and so we have it today.

Amalie Emmy Noether (1882-1935) was an accomplished mathematician who also made significant contributions to physics. Although her mathematical discoveries were foundational in the area of abstract algebra, what’s known as Noether’s Theorem is considered one of the most important mathematical theorems ever proved in the field of physics and some physicists have claimed it as on par with the Pythagorean Theorem.

Ayn Rand (1905-1982) was a philosopher and popular writer. Her most famous work is probably the novel Atlas Shrugged, published in 1957, which concerns her philosophy of Objectivism. Her ideas have been extremely influential in the arena of capitalism and former US Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was one of her keen students earlier in his life. Greenspan’s approach to regulating capitalist markets can be said to be a prime cause for the extent of the last couple of decade’s economic growth in the US and the subsequent global financial crisis.

Hedwig Eva Marie Kiesler (1913-2000), better known as Hedy Lamarr, was a popular Hollywood actor in her day. More significantly (from my point of view), she invented a communications technology that is now used in every new mobile phone and laptop. Together with a friend, she was granted a patent in 1942 for a “Secret Communications System” that the genesis for spread-spectrum communications that has evolved into 3G, WiFi and Bluetooth.

Vera Rubin (1928-) is an astronomer who was responsible for proving the existence of dark matter in the universe. This is pretty important as it turns out that the vast majority of the universe is made up of dark matter, and a lot of astrophysics now relies on dark matter to explain it. Actually, it turns out that most of dark matter is actually dark energy, but this doesn’t diminish the discovery.

I don’t suggest any of these people are perfect, nor that I agree with all their views, but their contributions to science and culture are profound, and I suspect most people didn’t know about them. As for myself, I was inspired by the list of scientists mentioned in the book Pythagoras’ Trousers.

2 thoughts on “Female of the Species”

  1. I haven’t been keeping up with my reading so have lots of blogs to catch up on now. Nice post – I’d only heard of Duncan and Rand.

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