Today we’re celebrating International Women’s Day 2018, in a year which also marks 100 years since women in the UK gained the right to vote. As we continue to champion more women and greater diversity in science, technology, engineering and mathematics we’ve put together a list of pioneers who inspire us from the field of STEM from the past 100 years. They represent people who are both passionate, creative, fearless and practical in their approach to innovation – things we champion at The Dot Project!

Inventors in their spare time

Image credit: Encyclopedia of Alabama

One of the most commonly used features on cars today originated from an idea conceived by Mary Anderson, born in 1866.  During a snowy visit to New York in 1903 Mary saw the driver regularly have to manually wipe the windscreen to be able to see.  Mary patented a design based on a spring-loaded arm with a rubber blade.  In a good example of how timing is so critical in innovation, the value of her idea was initially not understood and it wasn’t until around 1940s when cars could travel faster that her idea was adopted and became a regular feature on cars, by this time her patent had expired.

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Debbie Sterling studied engineering at Stanford University, after finding out what an engineer actually was during her senior year in high school.  Debbie felt the reason young girls were not engaging with STEM careers was because they were not encouraged at a young age to build and fix during play.  Through a kickstarter campaign she launched Goldieblox to equip girls with spacial reasoning skills and knowledge of mechanics. 

Space exploration and inspiration

Image credit: NASA

Annie Easley began working as a “human computer” at the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA) in 1955, NACA later became the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA).   “Human computers” were individuals who supported researchers by doing manual calculations to contribute to both research and real-time problem solving.  Soon electronic computers were introduced and Annie adapted to this change by taking a mathematics degree and learning how to code.  Annie developed code which directly contributed to the development of software on NASA space crafts, she was also a strong advocate for STEM education and diversity.

Image credit: NASA

Christa McAuliffe was an American teacher and one of the seven crew members on a Space Shuttle Challenger mission in 1986.  Christa was the first American civilian selected to go into space as part of the Teacher in Space Project supported by Nasa.  Her mission would be to educate the next generation on space travel.  Sadly she was killed when the Space Shuttle Challenger broke apart after launch. In her memory The Christa McAuliffe Technology Conference has taken place every year since 1986.

Image credit: CBS News

The Commander of the Space Shuttle Challenger mission of 1986 was Dick Scoobee.  After he died in the mission his wife June Scobee Rodgers dedicated her time and energy to continuing the crew’s educational mission.  June set up the Challenger Center.  Now with global reach, The Challenger Center has reached over 4.4 million children across the world through practical and immersive teaching techniques in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) focused programs.


Image credit: Henri Lloyd

Krystyna Chojnowska-Liskiewicz was known as the “First Lady of the Oceans” after becoming the first woman to sail solo around the world in 1976, doing so in a total of 401 days covering a total of 31,166 nautical miles.  Krystyna was a Polish sea captain and shipbuilding engineer.   She began her career after earning a naval architecture degree and working in the Gdansk Shipyard as a ship designer.

Image credit: Living Circular

Ellen Macarthur broke the world record in 2005 for the fastest solo circumnavigation of the globe, completing it faster than the record holder at the time Frenchman Francis Jovon.  She travelled 27,354 nautical miles in 71 days, 14 hours, 18 minutes 33 seconds. After experiencing the impact of climate change on the sea Ellen Macarthur retired from professional sailing in 2010 and launched the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, a charity that works with business and education to accelerate the transition to a circular economy.

Image credit: Oceana

Alexandra Cousteau is a filmmaker, explorer and an environmental activist.  Inspired by the work of her grandfather Jacques-Yves Cousteau and father Philippe, Alexandra has explored oceans across the world to further environment research.  Alexandra is a strong advocate for the importance of conservation and seeks to empower individuals to take action to protect our oceans, sea life and human communities which rely on freshwater resources.

Championing empathy and the human connection

Image credit: WomenWho

Otegha K. Uwagba has a background in advertising and has been called ‘London’s new generation of female CEOs’ by the Evening Standard.  Otegha is the founder of Women Who.  Women Who is an online platform for women based in London that connects people, supports, and inspires creative working women through events, content and online peer support.  Otegha also wrote the Little Black Book: A Toolkit For Working Women.

Image credit: Ruby Steel

Ruby Steel is a Senior Design Strategist and amongst other things has been a fixer on the BBC 2 ‘The Big Life Fix’ programme.  In one episode she designed a platform to give a man who had lost the power to speak the ability to build sentences through audio snippets, some of these snippets were his own voice captured on family videos.  Ruby champions the use of empathy and creativity for individuals isolated by circumstance.