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ENGINEERING

Heddy Lamarr on couch posing

“Analysis gave me great freedom of emotions and fantastic confidence. I felt I had served my time as a puppet.” – brainyquote.com

     Hedy Lamarr rose to fame as an actress more than 80 years ago. She was recognized for her great acting and beauty. But not everyone knew from a young age, Hedy exhibited her skills as a mathematician and engineer, as well as her enthusiasm for innovation. She invented different creations, like a tablet that when dissolved in water, made a carbonated drink and an enhanced traffic signal design. Her commitment to her work led her to establish a workshop in her residence, equipped with a drafting table and shelves stocked with many reference books.

     One of the prominent personalities in Hollywood who acknowledged Hedy’s scientific talents was the unconventional aviation tycoon, Howard Hughes. He sought her many times counsel and even said she was a genius when she presented him with sketches of potential wing modifications to boost aircraft speed. 

     When World War II erupted, Hedy was keen to utilize her expertise in the battle against the Nazis. Inspired by reports of German U-boats targeting U.S. submarines, she aimed to enhance the radio-controlled torpedoes utilized by the U.S. Navy. Collaborating with her friend, the composer George Antheil, they conceived a revolutionary idea known as “frequency hopping” in the summer of 1940. This groundbreaking technique enabled radio receivers and transmitters to switch frequencies randomly, creating an unbreakable code that thwarted enemy interception or disruption.

      Hedy and George submitted their invention to the National Investors Counsel in 1941. They were accepted and given a patent for their invention. Despite initial doubts from the U.S. military, the device eventually found its way onto US naval vessels during the Cuban Missile Crisis and was subsequently employed in various military applications. Hedy’s contribution to the advancement of “spread spectrum technology” had a significant impact on the digital communications sector laying the groundwork for fax machines, mobile phones, and other wireless technologies. Without her, WIFI might have never been invented. Hedy and George were given the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award in 1997 as an acknowledgment of their historical creation. Hedy is also recognized as the first woman to receive the BULBIE Gnas Award.