Women in STEM, Tech and Coding: Hedy Lamarr

If we tell you that the principles of Wi-Fi technology were created, developed and registered by a beautiful and very talented actress from the middle of the last century, would you believe us? Well, we have a surprise for you!

In this article from the series “Women in STEM, tech and coding” we want you to meet one of the most brilliant minds of modern times. This is someone who without even knowing it, left a legacy and knowledge that is helping us, even today, build even newer and more innovative solutions to everyday problems.

Today, we want you to meet the great Hedy Lamarr, a beautiful actress born in Austria in 1914, who besides her career on stage, developed the scientific and mathematical principles of the technology that today we use both for Bluetooth and for Wi-Fi.

Want to learn more about her? Here we go!

A little bit of her story

Since she was very young, Lamarr showed an interest in the performing arts, cinema and theater. She had her film debut in 1931 and she got her first leading role in a movie in early 1932, in the film “No Money Needed”, and it is this film that helped her become well-known all over the globe.

Hedy Lamarr moved to London in 1937 where she met Louis B. Mayer who was back then, the head of MGM studios. It was that meeting that opened the door for her to go directly to Hollywood and conquer the hearts of millions of Americans.

With the years, and after playing the leading role in hundreds of films (including the 1949 version of Samson and Delilah), Lamarr also became a movie producer, getting deeper and deeper into the field that she had loved from a very early age.

But there was another field that Lamarr loved, which was somehow related to the performing arts… at least from the creativity perspective: Hedy Lamarr was also, an inventor.

Lamarr wanted to join the National Inventors Council but was reportedly told by a few members of this organization that she could better help the war effort by using her celebrity status to sell war bonds instead. But that didn’t stop her.

What did she create?

It is incredible to think that even though she never had formal training in this field, everything she applied and learned was because she had decided to learn it herself, Hedy created a series of phenomenal items. She created a tablet that dissolves in water to create a carbonated drink and even a prototype of an improved version of the traditional traffic light we use till today.

During World War II, Lamarr learned that radio-controlled torpedoes, an emerging technology in naval warfare, could easily be tracked down and set off course. That is why she thought of developing a frequency-hopping signal that could not be tracked. To do so, she got in touch with an old friend in show-business; pianist George Antheil.

She wanted him to help her create a device for that purpose. He succeeded, by synchronizing a miniaturized piano-player mechanism with radio signals. They created several designs for this frequency-hopping system, which they patented and called “frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology”.

Although it was very difficult to implement this technology back then, many people say that the principles of it are now used both in Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Incredible, isn’t?

Her legacy

What can we say? If we start with the obvious, we can say that anyone can change the world when having a vision, a clear idea, and the right tools to create it. That’s what Hedy did.

She wasn’t only a spectacular actress with dozens of successful films, but she was also someone who wanted to do things that would improve the world and society she lived in, and without even knowing it, to improve our digital world as well.

Hedy Lamarr received many awards in her career as an actress and as a producer, both in Hollywood and in her early years in Europe, but she was also awarded for her praiseworthy invention of the frequency-hopping spread spectrum technology.

In 1997, Lamarr and pianist George Antheil were jointly honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award and Lamarr also was the first woman to receive the Invention Conventions BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, something more or less, like the “Oscars of inventing”.

She was a huge inspiration for everyone! Actors, directors, producers, audiences, scientists, inventors and the entire world. We don’t know exactly if we need to thank her for the existence of Wi-Fi, but regardless of that, we want to offer a big round of applause to Mrs. Hedy Lamarr!

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