India: World Intellectual Property Day 2018: Powering Change: Women In Innovation And Creativity

Last Updated: 25 April 2018
Article by Singh & Associates

Most Read Contributor in India, December 2018

"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." -Marie Curie

So exhorted Madame Marie Curie, the first woman scientist to win noble prize in two different scientific disciplines and who is popularly known as "mother of modern physics" because of her pioneer work in research on radioactivity, where she established the nature of radiation and beta rays. She also discovered and isolated polonium and radium elements. It was the first time a woman inspired other women to help them innovate through their creative ideas and scientific inventions.

Innovation is not just about a creative idea, but it is the implementation of creative ideas in such a way that they can be mass marketed to better the lives of other people. Innovation and women empowerment go hand in hand. A 2017 report on Gender Equality found that the number of women in the science, technology and innovation fields was low in the world's leading economies. Women's long been fight to be recognized at par with men, though has brought about some balance amongst genders in some ways but gender equality is still a far cry. Women still struggle for equal opportunities in certain disciplines.

In her famous book - Nobel Prize Women in Science, author Sharon Bertsch McGrayne has written about 10 women and their struggles on their way to achieving the Nobel Prize.  In this book, the women Nobel Prize winners have talked about how they made their way forward amidst difficulties when no one was in favor of women education. They have spoken about even crawling behind furniture to attend classes. They have shared how Science was considered hard and rigorous whereas women were considered fragile. Hence, they were excluded from serious science and innovative works. Women scientists were even considered unnatural beings. No sooner did these women overcome one barrier and another cropped up.1

Breaking the barriers to women's creativity and helping to nurture their innovative ideas is the first step towards powering change in the field of innovation and creativity. Women need opportunities to innovate. They need education, finances, time and most of all inspiration.

In the past two decades several women scientists have come up with life changing innovations. Their contributions cannot be ignored. Women scientists match and even supersede male scientists at times. Karthik Ramaswamy, visiting scientist at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) and a participant in the edit-a-thon, told The Hindu, "Science in India has a 'diversity problem' with Indian women and minorities represented inadequately.2 There are many women scientist who contributed to science and innovation but they are forgotten heroes".

The world of inventions worships male heroes. We all know inventors like Charles Babbage, the famous English mathematician who invented the world's first automatic digital computer, Alexander Graham Bell, inventor of telephone, Thomas Alva Edison, inventor of electric bulb, Benjamin Franklin inventor of bifocal glasses. But how many of us know the person who invented computer programming without which computers wouldn't be as efficient as they are - Computer programming was invented by a woman scientist - Grace Hoper. Stephanie Kwolek, another woman scientist, invented Kevlar, a material five times stronger than steel and which is used the world over to protect people from bullets.

Men have always been hailed as posterboys for achievements in the field of inventions. Most success stories related to showcase inventions are about male inventors, propagating the myth that women do not invent.

Unfortunately, this perception has propelled forward even in twenty first century and third technological revolution.  Such perceptions have historically denied women's contribution towards production of knowledge and their recognition as inventors. Since the 1800's, women have been fighting with determination to create equality between genders. Women's achievements are often overlooked when it comes to handing out praise. Ignoring the gender typecasts and prejudiced barriers that stood at every turn, female inventors have displayed a strong will and untiring perseverance.

The list of such female inventors is endless, however, on the occasion of World Intellectual Property Day 2018 with the theme – Powering Change: Women in Innovation and Creativity, we are delighted to present here, an introduction to a handful of unsung female scientists and inventors, whose ingenuity has helped shape the world as we know it over the last couple of centuries.

  1. Asima Chatterjee

Asima Chatterjee, a chemist, is well known for her contributions in the development of cancer medicine, anti-epileptic and anti-malarial drugs. Her contributions in the field of organic chemistry and phytomedicine are remarkable. She was the first woman to be named a Doctor of Science by an Indian University. She was nominated as a member of the Rajya Sabha by the President of India. She has inspired many women to follow in her footsteps and pursue careers that are not normally expected of women.

  1. Rajeshwari Chatterjee

Rajeshwari Chatterjee was the first woman engineer from Karnataka. In 1946, she was given a scholarship to study abroad, and studied at the University of Michigan where she obtained her master's degree from the Department of Electrical Engineering. After obtaining a Ph.D degree, she returned to India and joined the Department of Electrical Communication Engineering at IISc as a faculty member where she, along with her husband, set up a microwave research laboratory where they did pioneering work on Microwave Engineering.

  1. Darshan Ranganathan

She was an organic chemist from India who is known for her work in bio-organic chemistry, including "work in protein folding" and "supramolecular assemblies, molecular design, chemical simulation of key biological processes, synthesis of functional hybrid peptides and synthesis of nanotubes". She joined IICT, Hyderabad, in 1998, where she became the Deputy Director. After her death due to breast cancer in 2001, her husband instituted the biennial "Professor Darshan Ranganathan Memorial Lecture", which is "delivered by a woman scientist who has made outstanding contributions in any field of Science and Technology".

  1. Maharani Chakravorty

Maharani Chakravorty is a molecular biologist. She organized the first laboratory course on recombinant DNA techniques in Asia and the Far East in 1981. After her post-doctoral studies in the USA, she returned to the Bose Institute in Kolkata. Among her many accolades, she also received the Professor Darshan Ranganathan Memorial Award in 2007.

  1. Tessy Thomas

Known as the missile woman of India, she is one of the world's leading experts in ballistic missiles. She is the first woman to lead a missile team in India. She worked on Agni missile right from its inception and designed the guidance scheme for long range missiles. She is now a project director and technology director for Long Range Agni v missile and Mission Design and System analysis group of advanced systems laboratory, respectively.

  1. Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie Louise Kwolek was an American chemist, whose career at the DuPont Company covered over forty years. She is best known for inventing the first of a family of synthetic fibres of exceptional strength and stiffness: poly-paraphenylene terephthalamide—better known as Kevlar. For her discovery, Kwolek was awarded the DuPont Company's Lavoisier Medal for outstanding technical achievement. As of February 2015, she was the only female employee to have received that honor. In 1995, she became the fourth woman to be added to the National Inventors Hall of Fame. Kwolek won numerous awards for her work in polymer chemistry, including the National Medal of Technology, the IRI Achievement.3

  1. Bette Nesmith Graham

Bette Nesmith Graham, in 1950's while using one of the new electric typewriters in the office, felt the need of something that could allow her to correct the mistakes when the highly sensitive keys of typewriter resulted in typing unwanted letters. She discovered a quick drying paint that can be applied over the mistake and the paint so invented become famous as liquid paper. In 1979 she sold her company to Gillette Co. for $47.5 million.

  1. Margaret Knight

Margaret Knight was an exceptionally prolific inventor in the late 19th century; journalists occasionally compared her to her better-known male contemporary Thomas Edison by nicknaming her "the lady Edison" or "a woman Edison." Knight was born in York, Maine and was still a young girl when she began working in a textile mill in New Hampshire. After seeing a fellow worker injured by a faulty piece of equipment, Knight came up with her first invention: a safety device for textile looms. She was awarded her first patent in 1871, for a machine that cut, folded and glued flat-bottomed paper shopping bags, thus eliminating the need for workers to assemble them slowly by hand. Knight received 27 patents in her lifetime, for inventions including shoe-manufacturing machines, a "dress shield" to protect garments from perspiration stains, a rotary engine and an internal combustion engine.4

  1. Maria Telkes

In 1947, the Hungarian scientist invented the thermoelectric power generator to provide heat for Dover House, a wedge-shaped structure she conceived with architect Eleanor Raymond. Girl power, indeed!

Footnotes

1 Nobel Prize Women in Science by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne

2 http://www.thealternative.in/society/10-indian-women-scientists-you-should-be-proud-of/

3 https://www.ranker.com/review/stephanie-kwolek/2092524?ref=node_name&pos=2&a=0<ype=n&l=373563&g=1

4 https://www.biography.com/news/famous-women-inventors-biography

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