In your Wi-Fi, Hedy Lamarr!

Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler (1914-2000) was an Austrian-born American film actor often talked of as the most beautiful woman in the movies perhaps most famous for her role in the 1948 Cecil B. DeMille movie Samson and Delilah, playing Delilah to Victor Mature’s Samson AND an inventor.

An inventor, you say? Yes, indeed.

Hedy Lamarr was entirely self-taught when it came to science and engineering, but worked on many different projects in her spare time including a new type of traffic stoplight, a soluble tablet for making a fizzy drink, and perhaps most importantly to the modern world working with composer George Antheil at the beginning of the Second World War, she developed a system that would prevent the Axis powers from jamming Allied torpedoes. The system used a spread spectrum and the pair’s own approach to frequency hopping. These two concepts were known 34 years earlier than this (Nikolai Tesla patented a frequency changing decoy system but didn’t call it frequency hopping at the time) and essentially lie at the heart of wireless information technology and underpinned the beginnings of security for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and GPS.

For the Harry Potter fans among you, her given name may sound familiar. Of course, it’s the name of the eponymous hero’s messenger, a Snowy Owl (Bubo scandiacus) called Hedwig. I assume that the author of the series of books about the child wizard, JK Rowling, was well aware of Hedy Lamarr’s research and inventions and naming the owl was a deliberate tribute to her.

Incidentally, I’ve written about Ms Lamarr before, just never on Sciencebase it seems (I thought I’d paid tribute to her years ago, but seemingly not).

UPDATE: My science friend Clare W pointed me to a radio broadcast that discussed Lamarr and pointed out that she perhaps wasn’t quite the technical pioneer we imagined – https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0b3cvrf

Author: 雷竞技官网

Award-winning freelance science writer, author of Deceived Wisdom. Sharp-shooting photographer and wannabe rockstar.