Hertha Marks Ayrton: 5 facts about the British engineer and inventor on her 162nd birthday

Google has marked what would have been Ayrton's 162nd birthday

Luke Howard
Thursday 28 April 2016 00:32 BST
Hertha Marks Ayrton’s 162nd birthday

Hertha Marks Ayrton was a British mathematician, engineer, physicist and inventor who was awarded the Hughes Medal in 1906 by the Royal Society for her work on electric arcs and ripples in sand and water.

Born in Portsea, Hampshire in 1854, she studied at Girton College, Cambridge, and registered 26 patents for mathematical divders, arc lamps and electrodes between 1884 and her death in 1923.

As Google marks what would have been her 162nd birthday with a Doodle on its homepage, here are five facts about the inventor and committed member of the suffrage movement.

1. She was self-sufficient by the age of 16

After her father died in 1861 leaving her mother with seven children to care for and another on the way, Ayrton was tasked with helping to raise her siblings. Her mother, however, was determined this would not stand in the way of her daughter's education. She was taken to London by an aunt who ran a school. By the age of 16 she was working as a governess, but still had a desire to advance her education.

2. She was a keen supporter of women's suffrage

At school she gained a reputation as a intellectual and an activist, going on hunger-strike when accused of something she had not done. This fired a passion for politics and she took part in marches and opened her home to women released from jail after being on hunger-strike, including suffragette leader, Emmeline Pankhurst.

3. She was friends with the novelist George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans (better known by her pen name George Eliot) was a keen supporter of education for women and she took an interest in Ayrton's efforts to fund a place at Girton College. At the time she was working on Daniel Deronda and there were many similarities between the character Mirah, a dark haired Jew with a distinctive voice, and Ayrton.

4. She was the first female member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers

After reading a paper to the IEE on her work on the electric arc in 1899, Ayrton was elected to full membership two days later. Unlike the Royal Society, the IEE focused on her scientific ability rather than her gender.

5. She used her theories to help the war effort

At the outbreak of First World War, Ayrton put her knowledge of oscillations in water to the movement of air to good use as part of Britain's war effort - once she had convinced the military to consider her idea. After battling to gain acceptance for her Flapper Fan invention, 100,000 were used on the Western Front to clear trenches of poisonous gas. She died from blood poisoning caused by an insect bite in 1923.

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