Inventions of all kinds make our daily lives easier.
When you picture the creative people behind these ideas, who comes to mind first? Is it Johannes Gutenberg with his printing press (1440), Alexander Graham Bell with his telephone (1876) or maybe Thomas Edison and his famous light bulb (1879)?
That's a good start. But as you ponder the question over a cup of coffee, ask yourself whether you know who invented the coffee filter? In 1908 Melitta Bentz was granted a patent for her ground-breaking idea.
And who's the genius that helps you clean up the mess after a sumptuous meal? That's Josephine Cochrane, another female inventor, who created the first commercially-successful automatic dishwasher in 1886, using her profound knowledge of hydraulic systems.
As you put on your lightweight glasses, think about another smart character: the woman who invented them in 1973. Working on more than 300 types of optical glasses, German inventor Marga Faulstich was granted around 40 patents for her work.
And today, there are so many women inventors you may never have heard about. Here we present a few more of these outstanding female innovators.
Women who won the European Inventor Award
Margarita Salas Falgueras (2019, Lifetime and Popular Prize)
Margarita Salas Falgueras invented a faster, simpler and more reliable way to replicate trace amounts of DNA into quantities large enough for full genomic testing. Her invention based on phi29 DNA polymerase is now used widely in oncology, forensics and archaeology.
Agnès Poulbot (2018, Industry)
Poulbot and co-inventor Jacques Barraud developed an “auto-regenerating” tyre-tread design that not only increases tyre durability and performance, but significantly decreases fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from the cars and trucks fitted with them.
Esther Sans Takeuchi (2018, Non-EPO countries)
Sans Takeuchi invented the compact batteries that power most implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) – which are literally life-savers. Her battery, which offers major benefits to millions of heart patients worldwide, is just one of her 150 patented inventions.
Jane ní Dhulchaointigh (2018, SME)
Ní Dhulchaointigh and her team developed Sugru, the world’s first mouldable glue. Named after the Irish word for play, it combines the strength of super glue with the pliability of rubber. It enables users to fix, improve and customise the things they own, rather than simply throwing them away.
Ursula Keller (2018, Lifetime achievement)
Keller developed the leading technology for commercial ultra-fast lasers that are used in many manufacturing and medical applications. Over a 30-year career, Keller has continued to advance laser science through more compact, efficient and powerful designs which are instrumental in fields ranging from scientific research to telecommunications and consumer electronics.
Helen Lee (2016, Popular Prize)
Lee developed a DNA-based instant blood diagnostic kit that allows on-the-spot detection of infectious diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and chlamydia. Unlike other tests, the cartridges do not require cold storage or transport, making them perfectly suited for countries with a poor technical infrastructure.
Laura van ‘t Veer (2015, SME)
She is the inventor of a gene-based breast cancer test. This test evaluates tumour tissue for the 10-year risk of cancer recurrence, thus identifying high-risk patients who actually require chemotherapy, and low-risk patients who will remain cancer-free without having to undergo toxic chemical treatments.
Christine Van Broeckhoven (2011, Research)
Van Broeckhoven's work has been instrumental in understanding neurodegenerative brain diseases like Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and bipolar disorder. She has obtained several patents on various genes and protein products throughout the course of her research and paved the way for effective treatments of these diseases.
Ann Lambrechts (2011, Industry)
Lambrechts' invention of mixing steel wire elements into concrete has not only improved the stability of structures where it is used, it has reduced building costs and opened up entirely new architectural opportunities. Steel fibre concrete was used to build the Gotthard Base Tunnel and the Channel Tunnel linking Great Britain to the Continent.
Catia Bastioli (2007, SME)
Bastioli found a way to develop bio-degradable plastics. Her shopping bags made of starch can be processed just like normal plastics, but when thrown onto a regular compost heap they fall apart in weeks. Made from crops, bio-plastics reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the consumption of non-renewable resources.