Hertha Marks Ayrton was a total badass. Google just honored her in an awesome way.

Never heard of Hertha Marks Ayrton? That's OK. Neither had I. But let me tell you why I'll definitely be remembering her.

Ayrton would have been 162 today, so Google decided to honor her with a Doodle designed by artist Lydia Nichols.


Image from Google.com

Ayrton was the first woman to present a scientific finding to the esteemed British Royal Society, way back in 1904.

A painting of Ayrton. Image from Mme. Darmesteter/Wikimedia Commons.

This is the same society that heard presenters like Charles Darwin and Michael Faraday (one of the great founders of modern electric knowledge).

Ayrton's work was "The Origin and Growth of Ripple-mark," which helped explain ripple marks, those weird lines on beaches.

Image from Margaret W. Carruthers/Flickr.

If that seems silly, this is no eighth-grade science experiment. Fluid dynamics is incredibly weird and difficult, but Ayrton was a powerhouse of math and physics knowledge. Her discovery helped us better understand how fluids like air and water move, which affects things from water delivery to electric turbine design.

This wasn't Ayrton's only contribution to science.

Image from A. Rintel/Wikimedia Commons.

At the turn of the century, a new form of lighting had hit Britain: the electric arc lamp. The lights were bright and dependable but also had a weird tendency to hiss when they were turned on.

Well, it was Ayrton who figured out what that noise was. In 1899, she presented a paper, "The Hissing of the Electric Arc," to Britain's Institute of Electrical Engineers. She explained that the noise was from craters forming in the lamp's carbon rods. Two days later, they elected her as their first female member.

Unfortunately, the scientific community sometimes tried to hold her back because of her gender.

In 1901, she wrote another paper about electric arcs and tried to present it to the Royal Society. But the society had a man present her work instead.

"An error that ascribes to a man what was actually the work of a woman has more lives than a cat," she once said — a quote that I think might resonate with a lot of other female scientists.

Nevertheless, Ayrton continued to make significant contributions to electrical engineering.

She was never one to let people hold her back because of her gender, though. She was a keen supporter of women's suffrage in England.

A suffrage meeting in England circa 1908. Image from The New York Times/Wikimedia Commons.

She took part in a lot of marches and demonstrations, was a member of the Women's Social and Political Union, and either founded or help lead many other suffrage societies. She also opened her home to women who had been jailed after demonstrations and hunger strikes.

She was also a prolific inventor, and her inventions saved lives in World War I.

Image from Ernest Brooks/Wikimedia Commons.

By the time she died, she had 26 different patents under her belt. In 1915, Ayrton invented a fan that saved soldiers from the poisonous gas weapons of World War I.

Over 100,000 fans were sent to the battlefield.

Hertha Marks Ayrton was an awesome engineer, mathematician, physicist, inventor, and proponent of women's suffrage.

It kind of sucks that more people haven’t heard of her and that we needed a Google Doodle to find out about her. But it's still pretty powerful to see a big, public reminder of the huge number of amazing women who have had an impact on our world.

Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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