Sunday, May 8, 2016

Mothers of Invention: GE Reports

From General Electric's GE Reports blog:
When Katherine Blodgett became the first woman scientist working in GE’s labs in 1918, she already held the distinction of being the first female to earn a PhD in physics from Cambridge University in England. In 1923 GE hired Edith Clarke, the first woman with a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology also the first female electrical engineer in the entire United States. Despite the progress, when Betty Lou Bailey helped design the company’s first supersonic jet engine and America’s first weather satellites in the 1950s and 1960, only “one percent of the engineers employed by General Electrics were women,” she told a newspaper....

Here's more on the Slide Rule Sisters:

This Mother Of 6 Helped GE Build Its First Supersonic Jet Engine
Engineer Mark Leary has been helping GE Aviation build jet engines for three decades. The work is in his blood — literally. More that 60 years ago, Mark’s mother, Patricia, helped the company design the supersonic engine that allowed Lockheed to build the F-104 Starfighter jet, known as “the missile with a man in it” and capable of sustained flight at twice the speed of sound, or Mach 2.

Patricia, now 87, worked next to aviation legend Gerhard Neumann on the engine for the Starfighter. She joined GE as an engineering assistant in 1949. At the time, there were just 4,000 female engineers in the entire country, including a handful at the GE Aviation plant in Lynn, Massachusetts, where GE built the first American jet engine. “They were looking for people to hire for the Lynn plant,” Patricia said. “I had a fresh degree in mathematics from Boston’s Emmanuel College so I gave it a shot.”

She started out in a “calculating pool,” crunching engine test data with a slide rule and a couple of “really fancy” calculators. “I liked the idea that math was being used to produce something,” Patricia said.
Top image: Leary’s colleagues included aviation engineers (from left to right) Loren Ingraham, Eleanor Semple, Betty Lou Bailey, and Janet Neely. Above: Many of them started out as “computers” in a “calculating pool,” crunching engine test data with a slide rule. Image credit: Museum Innovation and Science Schenectady
Her boss in Lynn was Neumann, a jet propulsion legend and innovator, and she quickly learned that she needed to expand her skills to work on cutting-edge projects like supersonic jet engines. She borrowed books and took GE classes in aerodynamics and gas turbine theory. She also kept math close and enrolled for an advanced degree at Boston University. “This was well before the string theory,” she laughed. “Complex variables and the Kutta-Joukowski theorem were about as high as we ever got.” The theorem just happens to be the cornerstone of aerodynamics....MORE