Happy Mother’s Day! We Honor 10 Moms in Tech, Medicine and Geekdom

Mother’s day is a time for celebration and rumination, of paying respectful attention to those that created us and shaped us. It’s a day for people worldwide to take some time out and reflect on all the good things that our mothers have achieved. Though mother’s day is a personal celebration, it’s also a universal event, and a great time to look at the achievements of the mothers of the world, whether their fields are art, science or medicine. Here’s the Chip Chick homage to the Mothers of the world.


Mother of Materials: Stephanie Kwolek

Anyone who works in law enforcement owns a debt of gratitude to Stephanie Kwolek, as her creation of Kevlar keeps them safe in the line of duty. Stephanie patented Kevlar in 1996 after she created it in her lab, whilst researching fibers.

Stephanie Kwolek was interested in science from an early age, and achieved a degree in chemistry in 1946. She then went on to work as a lab scientist, for DuPont, and during her time there developed the material Kevlar. It was discovered during research of fibers to use in new types of tires and she instantly saw that the potential possibilities of her creation could be significant to the world. Stephanie went on to patent 40 more products, but Kevlar remains the one she’s most renown for.


Mother of Geek Lore: Queen Padme Amidala

It’s not easy trying to rule a planet at the tender age of 14, but Queen Amidala was determined to do so, and free it from the Trade Federation tyranny at the same time. She was made a Legislator at the age of 11, which show just how focused she was from a young age, and under her firm but fair hand the planet prospered. Sure, she’s a fictional character, but she fully expresses girl power with her dedication to her people and her hard work.

Her romantic liaison with Anakin Skywalker had epic consequences, yet you can’t help but be touched by the forbidden love, and the idea that even a queen can get lonely. Perhaps it’s even more poignant in the era of modern day royalty- will Will and Kate have more or less luck with a public marriage? Amidala never gave up what she believed in, and her strong will, determination and courage make her a fine role model for women.


Mother of the Internet: Radia Perlman

Radia Perlman looks unassuming at first glance, a gentle friendly woman, with a kind smile and nice eyes. Don’t let appearances deceive you though, as behind that friendly face lies a seriously shrewd mind and brain that does more during sleep than most of us will do in a week. Fondly described as the mother of the internet, Radia Perlman is best known for creating the spanning tree protocol, which allows networks to provide automated backup paths if links fail, and ensures loop free network access. Look, that’s me simplifying it OK? Suffice to say, this system helped provide the modern day routing systems that exist on the web, and looks after their security.

What’s so refreshing about Radia is the down to earth manner in which she addresses complex topics, and how she manages to make them accessible. Reading a recent transcript of an interview with her, I was struck by how engaging she was, and how willing to speak to people in a way they’d understand. When asked about her latest project TRILL, and how it related to her original spanning tree algorithm she gave the following answer:

‘You can think of it as a replacement to spanning tree that has the same properties of being zero-configuration, just plug it together and it works and it looks like one big thing but performs better because you have optimal paths. With spanning tree it’s like taking the highway system and saying you don’t need both Rtes. 128 and 495 [to use local roads here in Massachusetts] just because they both sort of go in the same direction.’


I like how she doesn’t ‘dumb down’ her answers, yet still finds a way to make technical jargon accessible. We salute you!

Mother of Computing: Ada Lovelace

Ada Lovelace was born in 1815, in an era where technology as we know it barely existed. Despite existing in a society which viewed women as second class citizens, her intelligence and determination saw her accomplish great things. Her love of Mathematics was inspired by her work with Charles Babbage, and she is credited with writing the first EVER computer program, which was based on a translation she made of an Italian Mathematician’s article. Her notes on this translation formed the basis for the first computer program ( she worked out a way for a machine to play with numbers), and this algorithm formed the basis of the Babbage Analytical Engine created (finally!) in 1989.


Mother of Medicine : Marie Curie

Marie Curie is a familiar name, and we owe her a huge debt for her discovery and development of radiation therapy. Born in 1867, Marie Curie trained at The Sorbonne where she studied Physics and Mathematical Sciences. She discovered ways to separate radium from radioactive residues and studied and investigated the therapeutic benefits of this. She focused on how to help people, and ways in which to treat them, and her work proved the basis for radiation therapy which treats people affected with cancer.

She won the Nobel Prize in 1903 and her work still continues today in many forms. You’re probably aware of the Marie Curie foundation which works to raise money for those in need, and many of her original discoveries are still used in some form today.


Mother of Speed: Sarah Fisher

Every woman has a different association with driving. Some love the feel of the engine beneath them and happily scrape tarmac as they roar along the roads others are more cautious careful drivers who practice the MSM (mirror signal maneuver) diligently. We all recognize quite how powerful cars can be thoughts so it’s great to see as woman making her mark in one, and breaking speed records whilst she does so. Sarah Fisher holds the fastest qualifying time for a woman at the Indy 500 ( a huge race) and runs Sarah Fisher racing, a female team of drivers.

Sarah has always been passionate about driving and entered her first race at 19. She’s broken records from day one, for her age and speed around the various tracks, to the way she relentlessly keeps entering competitions. She was the first female to drive a Formula One car at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway and the fastest woman to qualify as well. Her background is in carting and she has been racing from a young age. I love how she refuses to be pigeon holed in what is traditionally a ‘man’s sport’ and how she keep breaking records all the time- setting new goals and aims for women worldwide.


Mother of Multitasking: Josephine Cochrane

The kitchen can be a fun cool place to hang out when you’re whizzing up something amazing, or microwaving your dinner, but clearing up dirty dishes is nobody’s idea of a good time. Josephine Cochrane was not the traditional choice of person for an inventor, a socialite from Illinois who was born in 1839. Used to having servants cater her parties and clean her dishes, she became annoyed when her china was chipped when it was washed to strenuously. She objected to doing the dishes herself, and came up with the idea of a machine that used water jets to rinse the dishes clean. She patented her design in 1886 and established the Garis Cochran Dish Washing Machine Company. The original machine was hand powered, but the machine eventually evolved to use a steam engine. Her company grew to great heights- being purchased first by Hobart, and then by Whirlpool. I love the fact that we have dishwashers due to one woman’s reluctance to spend her time washing up- and that her quest for time-saving proved what a smart and efficient mind she had.

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Mother of Machines: Margaret Knight

Margaret Knight was born into an industrious family in 1838, and was busy from a young age. Drawn to machines, she took a job at the Paper Bag Company, working in the factory. Her first invention was a machine that folded paper and glue to form flat bottomed paper bags, an idea that sprung from her work with the machines. She spent her days in the factory and her evenings sketching the design, only to be caught in a lengthy court battles as another worker claimed her idea as his own. She eventually won the court case, and her creation was so popular that it was soon being used by factories around the world. This wasn’t the only invention she created though, as she went on to help redesign factory machines and simplify workers lives with a variety of clever systems. She moved into rotary engines in 1902, and patented a number of components that revolutionized rotary engines, including  the sleeve-valve automobile engine.

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Mother of Mattel/ Barbie: Ruth Handler

Love her or hate her, the Barbie doll is an enduring symbol of womanhood, and something all women are familiar with. Barbie may seem like a rather obvious choice for a doll, but in fact it was actually fairly revolutionary when it came out.

Created by Ruth Handler (born in 1916) the Barbie doll was created as a solution to the little girl doll market- where maturing children still liked dolls but wanted something more adult. Ruth designed the Barbie doll (named after her daughter) and debuted it in 1959 at a New York toy fair. It was an instant hit, and I think we all know how that turned out.

Barbie dolls have often been under criticism for giving women unrealistic body expectations and of glamorizing unhealthy eating but it’s important to remember they were originally designed just for play and not trying to make any type of statement at all. There are now thousands of variants, and the company is trying to be more sensitive as we’ve had dolls themed to encourage women into science and other fields- like the Computer Engineer Barbie.

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Mother of the Apes: Jane Goodall

Jane Goodall (born 1934) is the world expert on chimpanzees. Her love affair with chimps started when she was 26 on a trip to Tanzania where she was working as an anthropologist., her fascination with the chimps was started and she went on to forge a career in trying to understand and interpret their behavior. She discovered that chimps can make and use tools and have similar social groups to humans; in that they understand each other and work in a hierarchy.

She is the 8th person ever to attend Cambridge for a PHD with no degree, and when she graduated went on to publish many papers on chimp behavior. She married a wildlife photographer who took many images of her exploits and she became famous as an adventurer as well as an anthropologist. Goodall has helped us understand our origins, and her outreach work to get young people interested in nature continues today.