International Women’s Day 2021: A century of outstanding innovation by inspirational women

Women throughout history continue to make their mark creating innovations and discoveries that impact our lives today. To celebrate International Women’s Day 2021, managing associate Miranda Kent reflects on inspiring female inventors in each decade since 1910 – when Mathys & Squire was first founded – to demonstrate the significant value that realising new ideas and inventions can bring.

1910s

  • 1914: Florence Parpart  

Parpart invented and filed a patent for the first modern electric refrigerator, which she initially marketed and sold to companies in America. The refrigerator represented a revolution for conserving food and is today an integral appliance in any kitchen.

1920s

  • 1921: Ida Hyde

Hyde created one of the earliest models of an intracellular micropipette electrode, which can be used to stimulate and monitor individual cells. This technology is still widely used in science laboratories today.

1930s

  • 1935: Katharine Blodgett

An American physicist and chemist, Blodgett is known for her work on surface chemistry and invented a revolutionary ‘invisible’, or non-reflective, glass coating, which is used in making camera lenses, microscopes and eyeglasses.

1940s

  • 1941: Hedy LaMarr

Although primarily an actress, during World War II LaMarr created a frequency-hopping communication system, which could guide torpedoes without being detected. Her work paved the way for the introduction of Wi-Fi, GPS and Bluetooth to the modern world.

1950s

  • 1957: Gertrude Belle Elion

Elion helped to develop numerous life-saving drugs for the treatment of diseases such as malaria, herpes, cancer and AIDS. Along with George Herbert Hitchings, she invented the first immunosuppressive drug, Azathioprine which was initially used for chemotherapy patients, and eventually for organ transplants.  She was awarded the 1988 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.

1960s

  • 1965: Stephanie Kwolek

In 1965, Kwolek discovered that polyamide molecules can be manipulated at low temperatures to form incredibly strong and stiff materials, which is used to make Kevlar®.  Originally Kevlar® was used to create lightweight, strong tyres for vehicles, but today is best known for body armour, such as bulletproof vests.  

1970s

  • 1971: Evelyn Berezin

An American computer designer, Berezin created the world’s first computerised word processor and founded her own company to bring her inventions to market. The first model was the size of a small refrigerator.  She also developed computer-controlled systems for airline reservations.

1980s

  • 1984: Rachel Zimmerman

At the age of just 12, Zimmerman invented a device called the ‘Blissymbol Printer’ that allowed people with speech disabilities to communicate non-verbally – using symbols on a touchpad translated to written language. Her invention has been recognised globally and she has received several awards for her achievements.

1990s

  • 1991: Ann Tsukamoto

Tsukamoto is an inventor and stem cell researcher who made a significant breakthrough in cancer research. She co-patented a process for identifying and isolating human stem cells found in bone marrow, which is today used to treat blood cancer, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.

2000s

  • 2009: Pratibha Gai

Gai created the in-situ atomic-resolution environmental transmission electron microscope (ETEM), which allows for visualisation of chemical reactions at the atomic scale. Her invention has been used worldwide by microscope manufacturers, chemical companies and researchers.

2010s

  • 2012: Deepika Kurup

Kurup is a clean water advocate and as a teenager, after seeing children in India drinking dirty water, she invented a water purification system (photocatalytic composite material) that removes 100% of faecal coliform bacteria from contaminated water using solar energy.

2020s

  • 2020: Sarah Gilbert & Catherine Green

Gilbert & Green are two of the leading scientists behind the Oxford/Astra Zeneca Coronavirus vaccine developed in record time amidst the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, saving lives and bringing hope to the entire world.

The inventors listed above are just a small selection of the vast number of women who have developed and, in some instances, patented innovative products that revolutionise the world we live in. At Mathys & Squire, we are privileged to work with innovators across a range of highly dynamic sectors and celebrate their significant technical contributions not just on International Women’s Day, but every day.

Key contact

Miranda Kent
Managing associate