Women and IP: Inventors and Gamechangers in Defence


Published 28th April 23

By Carolyn Jenkins, Senior Commercialisation Manager at Ploughshare

Women through history have made significant contributions as inventors in helping to shape our modern-day world – from radar countermeasures, to duct tape, to computer software, and much, much more. I’d like to highlight just some of these inventors below:

Joan Curran invented ‘chaff’ and was involved in the development of the atomic bomb

During WWII, UK physicist Joan Curran invented ‘chaff’, a radar countermeasure used to avert missile strikes. It consisted of clusters of tiny thin strips of aluminium, metallic glass fibre, or plastic designed to confuse radar when jettisoned from an aircraft. Joan also worked on the proximity fuse (enabling detonation at a predetermined distance, rather than on a timer or by contact which had previously been the case), and contributed to the development of the atomic bomb.

Vesta Stoudt invented duct tape

Vesta Stoudt worked at an ammunition factory during WWII, and was concerned that soldiers (including her sons) struggled to remove seals from ammunition boxes reliably and quickly. To overcome this, she invented a strong adhesive tape that could be easily ripped by hand. The resulting product (commercialised by Johnson and Johnson) combined cotton duck cloth with adhesive and a waterproof plastic, and was initially known as ‘duck tape’. After the war, this innovation was used to wrap air ducts, and so more commonly became known as ‘duct tape’.

Both Joan and Vesta’s work saved countless lives through WWII and their innovations are still known today – who hasn’t got some duct tape at home?

Grace Hopper was an eminent computer scientist

Grace Hopper had a long and distinguished career in the US Navy as a mathematician and computer scientist. In the 1950s, Grace became known for developing the first computer compiler (which translates programming instructions into computer code), and for the term ‘debugging’ after a moth famously got caught in a relay and had to be removed. In the 1990s, she was the first woman to be awarded with the US National Medal of Technology.

Grace’s work, and the work of many others like her, has evolved virtually every aspect of how we live in the digital age.

What’s next?

I love how technology innovation helps to solve some of the biggest challenges we face in society (often against the odds), and that’s why I am pleased to be part of Ploughshare’s new Climate, Environment and Sustainability group. Having just completed Cambridge University’s Business Sustainability Management course, I am looking forward to bringing my experience of working with IP to sustainable technology solutions for the benefit of people and the planet.

Please contact me if you would like to know more about our plans: carolyn.jenkins@ploughshare.co.uk.