Wednesday, 15 November 2017

15th November 2017 - Hedy Lamarr - the Engineer

Thought for the day:"City Unsure Why The Sewer Smells"

(Real Newspaper Headlines)

Today (November 9th) marks the 103rd birthday of actress and inventor Hedy Lamarr -- the glamorous movie star from the black-and-white era of film who co-invented a device that helped make possible the development of GPS, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi technology! 

Born in Austria in 1914, the mathematically talented Lamarr moved to the US in 1937 to start a Hollywood career. Throughout the 1930s and 1940s, she was considered one of cinema's leading ladies and made numerous films; however, her passion for engineering is far less known today. Her interest in inventing was such that she set up an engineering room in her house complete with a drafting table and wall of engineering reference books. With the outbreak of World War II, Lamarr wanted to apply her skills to helping the war effort and, motivated by reports of German U-boats sinking ships in the Atlantic, she began investigating ways to improve torpedo technology.

After Lamar met composer George Antheil, who had been experimenting with automated control of musical instruments, together they hit on the idea of "frequency hopping." At the time, radio-controlled torpedoes could easily be detected and jammed by broadcasting interference at the frequency of the control signal, thereby causing the torpedo to go off course. Frequency hopping essentially served to encrypt the control signal because it was impossible for a target to scan and jam all of the frequencies.

Lamarr and Antheil were granted a patent for their invention on August 11, 1942, but the US Navy wasn't interested in applying their groundbreaking technology until twenty years later when it was used on military ships during a blockade of Cuba in 1962. Lamarr and Antheil's frequency-hopping concept serves as a basis for the spread-spectrum communication technology used in GPS, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth devices. Unfortunately, Lamarr's part in its development has been largely overlooked and her efforts weren't recognized until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave her an award for her technological contributions. Hedy Lamarr passed away in 2000 at the age of 85 and, in 2014, she was as long last inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame for her invention of a "Secret Communication System" many years ago.

Hedy Lamarr is one of 50 remarkable women of science featured in the stunning illustrated biography, "Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers," for ages 9 and up at

She is also one of the 52 trailblazing women profiled in the excellent book “Headstrong: 52 Women Who Changed Science – and The World," which is highly recommended for teens and adults alike at

For adult readers who would like to learn more about her fascinating story, check out "Beautiful: The Life of Hedy Lamarr " ( and "Hedy's Folly" (

For two wonderful picture books starring girls who love to invent and build -- both for ages 4 to 8 -- we highly recommend “The Most Magnificent Thing" ( and "Rosie Revere, Engineer" (

And, if you'd like to encourage your children's interest in engineering and invention, check out our blog post: "Building Her Dreams: 60 Building and Engineering Toys for Mighty Girls," at

I didn't know that ...

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