April 11, 2021

Women who design the future | Science

Women who design the future | Science

The science of materials is an exciting discipline and also a great unknown. And that is because, as an academic education, it has been around for a relatively short time. However, what we do researchers and researchers who work in this field is an ancient task that is deeply linked to the evolution of our own civilization. Not in vain, have been the materials that we humans have used, at first as provided by nature and later mixing them and using new processing techniques, which have largely achieved the advancement of our culture and those that they have defined it. And there they are, to demonstrate it, the names that the prehistorians have put to him to the first stages of our cultural development: Age of Stone, of El Hierro, of the Bronze …

At present, people dedicated to physics, chemistry, mathematics or engineering work together to design the materials of the future (metals, ceramics, polymers and hybrids of the previous ones), which must respond to increasingly demanding needs to facilitate new advances in biomedicine, energy, industrial production and sustainability. Despite traditionally considered a discipline limited to the male gender stereotype, material science is increasingly nurtured by women. According to data from the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), a public institution that brings together the largest number of researchers in Spain, the percentage of scientists in the area of ​​new materials amounted to almost 40% in 2018, 7% more than in 2005.

Throughout history there have been scientists who have made key contributions in this field. Knowing them, knowing what they did and how they did it is one of the strategies to attract more women to our field. Katharine Burr Blodgett, who was born in New York in 1898, was one of them. Her father, murdered by a thief a month before she was born, had been a patent attorney with General Electric. Katharine was very interested in science from a very young age, she liked mathematics and physics and decided to devote herself to research at an early age. As a thesis subject, at age 19 and in the middle of the First World War, he chose The chemical structure of gas masks, and thus began to enter the world of materials. She became the first woman Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge (1926) and throughout her career she obtained several patents, but for what she is best known is for having devised non-reflective glass. His invention is now used in telescopes, cameras, windshields, television screens and computers.

Throughout history there have been scientists who have made key contributions in this field. Knowing them, knowing what they did and how they did it is one of the strategies to attract more women to our field

Ruth Rogan Benerito (1916-2013), American chemist, discovered how to treat cotton so that the fabrics that were obtained with it would not wrinkle or wrinkle much less, repel the stains and be resistant to fire. But perhaps among all the women who have developed new materials, the best known is Stephanie Kwolek (1923-2014), the inventor of Kevlar. This fiber is light, but of exceptional strength; with it anti-puncture tires, submarine cables, boat sails and bulletproof vests are made. In 1965 Stephanie led the R & D team at the Dupont company in charge of finding fibers lighter and stronger than nylon. Until then transparent solutions were those used to manufacture synthetic fibers and the rest were considered defective and discarded as waste. She ventured to try something new. He decided to spin one of the products that were being removed, an iridescent and milky-looking solution, and what he got became part of the story: a material that did not break as it did with nylon and was five times stronger than the steel; He had invented Kevlar. Throughout his career he obtained many achievements, including 17 patents. She mentored many researchers, encouraging them not to be afraid to think differently and to aspire to the highest. In his own words, "I can not imagine a bigger pride than having invented something."

These three pioneers represent a small sample of some of the scientific women who have developed new materials with incredible applications. However, the story does not end at this point. Right now, in research centers, universities and laboratories around the world, using electronic microscopes and 3D printers, doing mathematical calculations, measuring properties or imagining new materials for non-existent devices that cover the new needs of our society, there are many women designing the future.

Andrea García-Junceda She is a researcher at the IMDEA Materials Institute

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