Women across Australia and abroad are inspiring change and driving innovation in engineering every single day. And although historically underrepresented, women in STEM have always made their mark.
So, to celebrate International Women’s Day, we’re highlighting 5 influential women in engineering who have changed, and are continuing to change the industry and the world!
Marita Cheng | Robotics Engineer (Australia)
Marita Cheng is a notable Australian robotics engineer, entrepreneur, and a powerful role model for young women.
She founded two robotics companies: Aubot, which creates robots for the healthcare and services industries to help people living with disability, and Robogals, a company encouraging girls to pursue careers in engineering and technology. Robogirts operates in 11 countries and has reached more than 100,000 women. Cheng also co-founded Aipoly, an AI app which uses machine learning to identify objects and describe them to the visually impaired.
Cheng has received much award recognition, and in 2012, was named Young Australian of the Year for her work with Robogals and her efforts to promote STEM education. Through her innovative robotic inventions, Cheng has been able to create technological solutions to improve the lives of many individuals, future female engineers among them!
“I just want more girls to learn engineering so they can be part of the journey of creating inventions to help the world.” – Marita Cheng
Mary Jackson | NASA’s first black female engineer (USA)
Mary Jackson is known for her tenacious spirit, as she had to overcome a lot of racial prejudice and sexism throughout her career journey to become the first black female engineer at NASA in 1958.
Jackson first took up mathematics at a segregated high school, and after many challenges and setbacks, was promoted from mathematician to engineer as one of her supervisors recognised her undoubtable talent. She eventually found her place at NASA, and her work included analyzing data and conducting experiments that were critical to the success of many of NASA’s space missions.
Today, Jackson’s contributions to the engineering field despite having the odds stacked against her has left a lasting impact and serves as a reminder of the importance of representation and equality in STEM.
Professor Rose Amal | Chemical Engineer (Australia)
Professor Rose Amal is a trailblazer in the field of chemical engineering (a sector usually associated with ecological harm) due to leading clean energy and environmentally-focused research at the Particles and Catalysis Research Group (PartCat) at the University of New South Wales (UNSW).
Professor Amal was named one of Engineers Australia’s Top 100 Most Influential Engineers three times, and her achievements have revolved around developing new materials and processes to reduce greenhouse gasses from industrial processes. In 2018 she was made a Companion of the Order of Australia for her “eminent service” to the field, having successfully used catalysts and nanotechnology to convert carbon dioxide into fuel and useful industrial feedstock.
A leader at the Australian Academy of Science and the Australian Research Council, she is also known for her extensive advocacy of women and underrepresented minorities entering the STEM field, and her passion for inspiring the next young leaders.
Emily Warren Roebling | Chief Engineer on the Brooklyn Bridge (USA)
Emily Warren Roebling is proof that incredible women will do incredible things – even with no former training! Roebling fell into the profession of civil engineering almost by accident when her husband, who was the Chief Engineer of America’s famed Brooklyn Bridge, became paralysed and could not continue the project.
Roebling then took it upon herself to study civil engineering extensively so she was able to take over his duties and guide day to day construction and liaise with politicians on the bridge while he was ill.
Her efforts have been recognised, and Roebling is considered largely responsible for guiding the construction of what is now one of the most iconic structures in the US. Incredible stuff!
Hedy Lamarr | Engineer in wireless communication & Hollywood star (Austria)
Hedy Lamarr was born in Austria in 1914 and is most recognised for her work as an actress in Hollywood’s golden era – but did you know this beauty icon was also a pioneer in the creation of wireless communication technology?
That’s right! In addition to her film industry success, Lamarr left an ongoing legacy in engineering for her creation of frequency hopping technology. This was used by the Navy to control torpedoes during World War II and was later adapted for use in regular communication technology in the 60s.
However, it wasn’t until much later in her life that the science world fully recognised the breadth of Lamarr’s contributions, but in 1997, she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame. We love this engineer for subverting the stereotypes, and proving that women can be both beautiful and brainy!