Happy Ada Lovelace Day!

Ada Lovelace Day is a celebration of women inventors & women in the sciences. It is also a poorly-disguised excuse for me to history geek at everyone around me, since, of course, we can celebrate awesome scientists both past & present.

I know that this list is fairly quick & dirty – the history of technology & medicine is not really my strong point, I must admit, and I’m still hoping to get a broader list next year and in future years. I also, of course, want to live in a world where one does not feel obligated to spend a “special day!!!!” celebrating the achievements of women because those achievements are no longer underplayed, undervalued, or just ignored. But, since I live in this world, with my own limitations and my own need to learn more, this is the list I have.

A (short) (biased) List of Women Who Invented Stuff Relevant to the Interests of Some People With Disabilities:

Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin won the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

A British biochemist and crystallographer and the 1964 Nobel Prize winner in Chemistry for her determination by X-Ray techniques of the structures of biologically important molecules. Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin used X-Rays to find the structural layouts of atoms and the overall molecular shape of over 100 molecules including: penicillin, vitamin B-12, vitamin D, and insulin.

Helen Free invented the home diabetes test

Three years after beginning work at Miles, she married Albert Free (1947). Often working together, they became two of the world’s leading experts on urinalysis, an essential clinical procedure with countless applications. Free first developed dry reagents for use in laboratory urinalysis that are now, in tablet form, standard around the world. She went on to develop more consumer-oriented devices. The most important of these was a “dip-and-read” test that for the first time allowed diabetics to monitor their blood glucose level instantly and at home.


Gertrude Elion invented the leukemia-fighting drug 6-mercaptopurine and drugs that facilitated kidney transplants.

Gertrude Elion patented the leukemia-fighting drug 6-mercaptopurine in 1954 and has made a number of significant contributions to the medical field. Dr. Gertrude Elion’s research led to the development of Imuran, a drug that aids the body in accepting transplanted organs, and Zovirax, a drug used to fight herpes.

Dr. Marie Curie is known to the world as the scientist who discovered radioactive metals.

Together with her husband, Pierre, she discovered two new elements (radium and polonium, two radioactive elements that they extracted chemically from pitchblende ore) and studied the x-rays they emitted. She found that the harmful properties of x-rays were able to kill tumors.

Rachel Fuller Brown and Elizabeth Lee Hazen invented the worlds first useful antifungal antibiotic – nystatin.

As researchers for the New York Department of Health, Elizabeth Lee Hazen and Rachel Fuller Brown combined their efforts to develop the anti-fungal antibiotic drug nystatin. The drug, patented in 1957 was used to cure many disfiguring, disabling fungal infections as well as to balance the effect of many antibacterial drugs

Bessie Blount patented a device that allowed amputees to feed themselves

Bessie Blount, was a physical therapist who worked with soldiers injured in W.W.II. Bessie Blount’s war service inspired her to patent a device, in 1951, that allowed amputees to feed themselves. The electrical device allowed a tube to deliver one mouthful of food at a time to a patient in a wheelchair or in a bed whenever he or she bit down on the tube. She later invented a portable receptacle support that was a simpler and smaller version of the same, designed to be worn around a patient’s neck.


Patricia Bath invented the Cataract Laserphaco Probe.

Patricia Bath’s passionate dedication to the treatment and prevention of blindness led her to develop the Cataract Laserphaco Probe. The probe patented in 1988, was designed to use the power of a laser to quickly and painlessly vaporize cataracts from patients’ eyes, replacing the more common method of using a grinding, drill-like device to remove the afflictions. With another invention, Bath was able to restore sight to people who had been blind for over 30 years.

Betty Rozier and Lisa Vallino invented the Intravenous Catheter Shield:

Betty Rozier and Lisa Vallino, a mother and daughter team, invented an intravenous catheter shield to make the use of IVs in hospitals safer and easier. The computer-mouse shaped, polyethylene shield covers the site on a patient where an intravenous needle has been inserted. The “IV House” prevents the needle from being accidentally dislodged and minimizes its exposure to patient tampering. Betty Rozier and Lisa Vallino received their patent in 1993.

Krysta Morlan [who has cerebral palsy] invented the cast cooler:

Krysta Morlan’s first invention was a device that relieves the irritation caused by wearing a cast called the cast cooler. The portable cast cooler works by pumping air into a cast through a plastic tube. Krysta Morlan was in grade 10 when she invented the cast cooler. Still in high school, Krysta Morlan then invented the Waterbike, a semi-submersible, fin-propelled pedaled vehicle.

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi was half of the team that discovered the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV):

Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier discovered human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Virus production was identified in lymphocytes from patients with enlarged lymph nodes in early stages of acquired immunodeficiency, and in blood from patients with late stage disease. They characterized this retrovirus as the first known human lentivirus based on its morphological, biochemical and immunological properties. HIV impaired the immune system because of massive virus replication and cell damage to lymphocytes. The discovery was one prerequisite for the current understanding of the biology of the disease and its antiretroviral treatment.

Feel free to add to it in the comments, or link your own posts regarding Ada Lovelace Day!

By 24 March, 2010.    Uncategorized   



2 Comments

  1. Brava! Great list. Can’t add much, but let’s see…

    Virginia Apgar (1909-1974), first woman to attain full professor status at Columbia University (in any field), she was an anesthesiologist who devised the “Apgar score” that quickly assesses newborns to identify those in distress, trauma, or other difficulty, so they get appropriate care faster.
    http://www.nlm.nih.gov/changingthefaceofmedicine/physicians/biography_12.html

    Sandy Welner (1958-2001), obstetrician (and herself a disabled woman) who invented the “Welner table,” an accessible gynecological exam table (it lowers for easier transfer to/from a wheelchair, and has other useful features).
    http://www.disabilityworld.org/09-10_01/news/welner.shtml

  2. Just wanted to say that I love this roundup! Thanks.