Hedy Lamarr: a mind that mixed arts and science

August 08, 2018

Written by: Alicen Ricard


STEM careers and the arts sadly aren’t always seen as things that go together. There is a stigma behind both things that says they just don’t go together. That doesn’t have to be the case. After all, people in the arts are known as being creative and inventing things takes creativity as well, so why must the two things be mutually exclusive? When you picture an inventor, an image of a “mad scientist” with wild hair and a lab coat probably comes to mind. You probably didn’t picture an old Hollywood bombshell, did you? You wouldn’t be alone in that, but that’s exactly what actress and inventor, Hedy Lamarr is.

Source: Metro

Hedy was born as Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in 1914 in Vienna, Austria to Jewish parents. She was discovered as an actress in the late 20s and moved to Berlin to work with producer, Max Reinhardt. She made it big in 1933 when she was in the controversial film Ecstasy, which ended up being banned by Hitler. After she fled the country and her first marriage she met the head of MGM studios, Louis B. Mayer, who led her to change her name and move to Hollywood. She made it big in Hollywood by “stunning everyone with her beauty” in the film Algiers. After film after film failed to be a hit she tried to produce her own films but failed to make that work as well. She went on to star in Samson and Delilah after that.

Source: Intel iQ

Hedy had a knack for inventing things--she even helped Howard Hughes design more streamlined planes by making the wings less square. She figured it out from studying how birds and fish move. As well as being an actress, Hedy was a brilliant mind who went on to invent technology that would later be used to invent GPS. After talking with composer George Antheil about his work on player pianos and how he attempted to synchronize them, she applied the technology, along with her own knowledge of weaponry, to torpedoes. She figured if radio-controlled torpedoes could switch from one frequency to another they wouldn’t be detected as easily.  The Navy got the patents for it, but never did anything with them.  Hedy and George weren’t given credit for their game-changing invention. They weren’t taken seriously—especially Hedy since she was also a woman—because they were in the arts. She didn’t get any recognition for what she did until 1997 when her and George received the Electronic Frontier Foundation Pioneer Award.  Hedy also was awarded the BULBIE Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award the same year.

Source: The Atlantic

The stigma that Hedy couldn’t have invented something as brilliant as frequency hopping because she was an actress could be changed by changing the way we teach children. Kids in schools need to be encouraged that you don’t have to choose either science or the arts. You can do both, and one can influence the other, causing creative ideas to be born. There are plenty of ideas out there of how to combine science and art for kids, such as this list. It’s important to let kids know that they can be both creative and smart.

Let us know your favourite artist/scientist at Facebook or Twitter, and check out the documentary about Hedy Lamarr here.