#WomenInSTEMWednesday: Yvonne Brill

U.S. President Barack Obama awards the National Medal of Technology to Yvonne Brill for innovation in rocket propulsion systems for geosynchronous and low earth orbit communication satellites, which greatly improved the effectiveness of space propulsion systems at the White House October 21, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images)

In honor of NASA wanting to put a WOMAN on the moon, this week’s #WomenInSTEMWednesday is going back into space! Today’s #WomenInSTEM is Yvonne Brill.

In the air and space community, Yvonne Brill is most well known for her contribution of the electrothermal hydrazine thruster (fancy terms for a chemical propulsion thruster, which was still in use when she died in 2013. But it was not her only contribution!

Starting in high school, Brill was told she couldn’t do certain things because she was female. Her physics teacher told her women couldn’t amount to anything, the engineering department at the University of Manitoba wouldn’t admit women and that she would have to work harder to receive the same recognition as her male colleagues. NONE of those things stopped her.

By the time she graduated from the University of Manitoba with a degree in mathematics and chemistry, she was at the top of her class. She moved to LA and began working at Douglas Aircraft on the design for the first American satellite. (Note: It is believed that Brill was the only woman working in the United States during the 1940s in the field of rocket science).

While she continued to work, Brill found herself restless with the purely theoretical work – she wanted to see her calculations and work actually take off. She moved to the east coast working on calculations for turbojets and chemical manufacturing. During her work, she knew there had to be a way for satellites to make little adjustments once they were launched into orbit and was determined to find a way to make this happen.

After long hours and many weekends spent working on this new way, she discovered a more fuel-efficient chemical propulsion thruster that helped satellites carry more substantial payloads and remain in orbit for longer periods of time. Brill also worked on the Nova rockets that took America to the moon, the first weather satellite (TIROS-1 which launched April 1, 1960), the first satellite stationed in the upper atmosphere, the Mars Observer, and the engine for the space shuttle! WOW!

Although she may have been told that she couldn’t amount to much or couldn’t do things because she was female – that never stopped her! Instead, she proved everyone wrong and spent decades encouraging women to go into the math and science fields along with encouraging places to give female engineers the recognition they deserve!

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