Hedy Lamarr

by noticingbones

hedy lamarr

“Any girl can be glamorous, all she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”–Hedy Lamarr

Hedy Lamarr is pretty much it for me when it comes to awesome females.  Not only was she stunning, but she became an actress in order to fund her real passion–science and math.  Thus proving a) you can have beauty and brains and b) that women are just as good at math and science despite everyone constantly telling us otherwise and c) sometimes we are even pretty awesome at it.

Reason #1 Why I Love Her:  She was a famous “beauty” and was contracted to MGM during their Golden Age.  However, despite the highly conservative film executives and the implementation of the Hays Code (basically the manual on how to make a movie “appropriately”) she starred in Ecstasy which featured close-ups of her character having an orgasm as well as full frontal nude scenes later in the film.  Today that seems pretty tame but for the time it was a BIG DEAL.  (In fact as someone who has studied film history I am curious to know how they got it past the Hays Code enforcers….)

Reason #2 Why I Love Her: She had a much older, super controlling husband that catered to Hitler and Mussolini.  When the relationship became too constricting for her she removed herself from it.  Some say she persuaded her husband to let her wear all of her jewelry to a dinner party one night and then promptly disappeared.  There is also speculation that she disguised herself as a maid and fled to Paris.  (There is even more controversial speculation that while attempting to elude her husband’s pursuit she slipped into a brothel and then had sex with a patron to avoid returning home so that she could go on to Paris.)

Reason #3 Why I Love Her: This reason is definitely way more impressive too.  She co-invented–with composer George Antheil–an early technique for spread spectrum communications and frequency hopping which is necessary for wireless communication.  She invented the precursor to cell phones and wireless communication essentially.

So what is spread spectrum communication?  In broadcasting it is a technique where a signal generated at a specific bandwidth is spread out over a frequency to broaden the bandwidth.  This technique helps insure a secure communication, to prevent detection, and to help reduce interference.  Frequency hopping is a method of rapidly switching a carrier among many frequency channels using a sequence that is known to the transmitter and the receiver.  This method helps prevent interference and again insures a secure channel for communication.  In 1941 Lamarr and composer George Antheil submitted the idea for a secret communication system and on August 11, 1942 US Patent 2,292,387 was granted to them.

Although Lamarr and Antheil presented to the Navy how such techniques could help prevent radio targeted torpedos from being jammed or detected, the US did not implement such techniques until 1962 after the patent had lapsed.  The delay in implementation may have had to do with the fact that Antheil and Lamarr based their work on piano rolls and it wasn’t until it could be practically applied with advanced electronic signals that the Navy finally saw it’s worth (but I am partially speculating here).  Although Lamarr frequently attempted to join the National Inventors Council, she was consistently told her looks would be more useful than her brain.  What jerks.  It took until 1997 for Lamarr to even be recognized for her contribution.  Today you can find a modernized implementation of Lamarr and Antheil’s work in things such as Bluetooth.