“While countless women throughout history have made enormous contributions to the fields of science and technology, many of them, unfortunately, are not synonymous with the words “discovery” and “invention” in the minds of the general public.”Marie-Sophie Pawlak (President of “Elles bougent,”
the French society for the promotion of women in science)
So reads the foreword to Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science.* This fascinating graphic novel for YA readers covers twenty women inventor-discoverers, ranging from the very famous (Marie Curie, Ada Lovelace and Mae Jemison) to the less so (Xie Yi, Marthe Gautier, and Maryam Mirzakhani). While the preponderance of the scientists did their work in mathematics (who says girls can’t do math?!) and come from France and the U.S., these impressive women also hail from Africa (Niger), Asia (China and Iran), and other European countries (Germany, Hungary, the UK, Poland, and Canada). Most lived in modern times, with a smattering from the 18th and 19th centuries; some receive a multi-page treatment; others only a single-page vignette.
No slouches they, this distinguished group collectively holds four Nobel Prizes, the Congressional Gold Medal, a Field Medal and numerous other awards such as the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
One of the most astonishing stories in the book belongs to Viennese-born Hollywood star Hedy Lamarr, who received the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Pioneer Award in 1997. (An actress-inventor? Yes!) Referred to as “the most beautiful woman in the world,” Lamarr learned about torpedo technology from her first husband (of six) and collaborated with composer, pianist, and inventor George Antheil during WWII to create a secure communications method based on the player piano. But the U.S. Navy laughed at her:
“Are you suggesting we mount a player piano on a torpedo?
… Miss Lamarr, if you wish to be useful and help fight our enemy, you should help us sell war bonds instead!”
Hedy Lamarr then embarked on a countrywide tour and helped raise seven million dollars in a single night.
Nonetheless, Lamarr and Antheil patented their invention. Forgotten until the early 1960s, it led to the technology in today’s cell phones, bluetooth, GPS, and wifi.
Study after study shows that many young women are interested in math and science, and yet they don’t end up pursuing either as a career, to the detriment of the entire world. Today’s difficult problems need our best minds and multiple, diverse perspectives to solve all that we face. Ample role models and mentors—rather than the histories of at most the two or three that are sometimes mentioned in school—will help ameliorate this situation.
Which makes a graphic novel such as Women Discoverers: Top Women in Science vital.
Written by Marie Moinard (France)
Illustrated by Christelle Pécout (South Korea/France)
Translated from the French by Montana Kane
2021, NBM Graphic Novels
Reviews: Comics Beat
You can buy a copy here.
*Review copy kindly provided by the publisher.
Award-winning opera singer Nanette McGuinness is the translator of over 60 books and graphic novels for children and adults from French, Italian, German and Spanish into English, including the well-known Geronimo Stilton Graphic Novels. Two of her translations, Luisa: Now and Then and California Dreamin’: Cass Elliot Before the Mamas & the Papas were chosen for YALSA’s Great Graphic Novels for Teens; Luisa: Now and Then was also a 2019 Stonewall Honor Book. Her translations released thus far in 2021 are For Justice: The Serge and Beate Klarsfeld Story, Magical History Tour #5: The Plague, Bibi & Miyu#2, The Sisters #7: Lucky Brat, Chloe & Cartoon, LGBTQ YA manga Alter Ego, and A House Without Windows.
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