If you’ve not yet heard the strange tale of Hedy Lamarr, I’ll sum it up briefly here.
In the 1930’s a beautiful Viennese actress escapes Europe and an oppressive marriage to a munitions magnate. She finds glory in Hollywood, but also discovers that her true passion is for invention. She meets a Dadaist composer (who is also an endocrynology hobbyist) and together they invent and patent a frequency hopping mechanism with the aim of preventing the radio jamming of guided torpedos. The system goes on to become the foundation of spread-spectrum signal technologies which in turn help develop secure military communications, mobile phone networks, the space programme and more.
Hedy, partly driven by a fury against the forces which annexed her Austrian homeland and then waged war across Europe, didn’t stop there. Her other weapon ideas included a proximity fuse for anti-aircraft bombs.
Truth stranger than fiction and all that.
As a female, as a geek, this is where I make some blithe comment about how you should never discount a woman’s ability – particularly the ability to innovate and invent. Remember this notorious Google auto-correct?
But the lessons of Hedy’s approach to invention are, I think, more general. One: don’t feel constrained by lack of formal qualifications. Two: observe, listen, soak up information, tinker, extrapolate, be audacious, have a cause.