Tag Archives: Inventor

Jew of the Week: Edith Stern

The Woman With 100 Patents and a 200 IQ

Edith Stern (b. 1952) was born in Brooklyn to impoverished Holocaust survivors who had married in the Warsaw Ghetto. Her father, Aaron Stern, had been a professor of languages (he was fluent in seven). When his daughter was born, he called a press conference – to which two reporters showed up – and declared: “I shall make her into the perfect human being.” Thus began what journalists at the time called “the Edith Project”. Stern immediately immersed his daughter in learning. He exposed her only to classical music, talked to her all the time, and taught her with flash cards. Suffering from jaw cancer and unable to work, Stern spent all of his time with Edith. By the age of 5, Edith had read through the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Although her father did not believe in IQ tests, she nonetheless scored a 205 that same year. Edith enrolled in college at 12, earned her BS in mathematics by 15, and her Master’s at 18. By this point, she was already teaching at Michigan State University. She went on to defend her Ph.D and joined IBM’s R&D division. Today, Stern holds over 100 patents for technological innovations used in telephones, digital media, video conferencing, self-driving cars, and the internet. Stern is still a “distinguished engineer” at IBM, where she is a VP, and recently won the Kate Gleason Award for lifetime achievement in technology. Although her mother once disagreed with her father about his methods, she later concluded that it had made her a “very mature, compassionate, kind, intelligent and wise young woman.” Her father maintained that being a genius has little to do with genetics, and everything to do with how a child is raised and educated. He wrote in his 1971 The Making of a Genius: “I can foster the same meteoric IQ in the children of the Tasaday tribe, a Stone Age people living in the Philippines.”

Words of the Week

We have 11 million Jews and from that we produced Einstein, and they couldn’t produce an Einstein from 170 million…it all depends on the head…the mind controls the muscles.
– David Ben-Gurionresponding to a question in 1957 of how the nascent Israeli soccer team might beat a professional Russian soccer team that chooses its players from 170 million citizens.

Jew of the Week: Emile Berliner

Inventor of the Gramophone and Helicopter

Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and the helicopter

Emile Berliner, inventor of the Gramophone and the helicopter

Emile Berliner (1851-1929) was born in Hanover, Germany. Though he studied to be a merchant like the rest of his family members, he was always more interested in invention. With the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, Berliner fled to the US and settled in New York. During the day, he struggled to make ends meet by delivering newspapers and doing other petty jobs, while at night he studied physics. He became interested in the new technology of telephone and began working on sound transmission. Berliner first invented a new phone transmitter that was later adapted to make the first microphone. Bell Telephone Company bought out his patent and hired Berliner. He worked for Bell until 1883, when he established his own company. Building on previous phonograph technology, Berliner revolutionized the world in 1887 by inventing the gramophone and the flat disc record. At first, it was sold as just a toy, and only in Europe. In 1895, Berliner managed to get a $25,000 investment for his invention, and started the US Berliner Gramophone Company. Unfortunately, others stole his patents and sold unauthorized records, and Berliner was eventually unable to sell his own invention. He moved to Canada, started a new company, and soon focused on other technologies. One of these was an automatic loom for mass-producing clothes. Another, more famous, was the first helicopter. For over twenty years, Berliner focused on developing vertical flight machines, with the help of a number of other inventors and scientists. He designed the vertical rotor that made modern helicopters possible. In 1922, Berliner demonstrated the first helicopter to the US Army. Meanwhile, Berliner wrote and published five books, and was a noted advocate for public health and better sanitation. He won a number of prestigious awards for his work, which forever transformed the music, clothing, and flight industries.

Words of the Week

The souls of all the living… On Rosh Hashanah will be inscribed and on Yom Kippur will be sealed: how many will pass from the earth and how many will be created; who will live and who will die… Who will rest and who will wander, who will live in harmony and who will be harried, who will enjoy tranquility and who will suffer, who will be impoverished and who will be enriched, who will be degraded and who will be exalted. But repentance, prayer, and charity avert these severe decrees!
– Verses from Unetanneh Tokef, sung during Rosh Hashanah prayers

Jew of the Week: Stan Ovshinsky

Inventor of (Almost) Everything

Mr. Ovshinsky made your life a lot easier

Stanford Ovshinsky (b. 1922) was born in Akron, Ohio to Jewish immigrants from Lithuania and Belarus. Instilled by his father with a sense of working for the good of the public, Ovshinsky went on to invent over 400 things for which he holds patents. He first created a special high-speed lathe that was used in the war effort to rapidly produce artillery shells. In 1951 he moved to Detroit to work in the auto industry and invented, among many other things, electric power steering. Besides mechanical engineering, Ovshinsky studied a diverse array of other subjects and one of his main focuses was neurophysiology. He was able to fashion a model nerve cell that was hailed as a breakthrough in nanotechnology. He also discovered what became known as the “Ovshinsky Effect”, which led to the development of rewritable CDs, DVDs and flat-screen displays. Ovshinsky is most famous for his work in batteries and solar cells. He invented the rechargeable (Ni-H) battery, and shattered all expectations by creating a 30 megawatt solar generator at a time when even 5 megawatts was a dream. Although he is nearly 90 years old, Ovshinsky continues his work, mostly on photovoltaic cells, with the express goal of making fossil fuels obsolete. He has been compared to both Albert Einstein and Thomas Edison, and is often called the “world’s most important energy visionary.” TIME Magazine named him “Hero of the Planet” in 1999. He has won countless awards and published over 300 scientific papers. His latest thin-film PV invention may soon be powering all of your devices, but you’ve probably never heard of him (until now). His humility can be summed up in his own words: “I’m not going to tell you about it, I’m just going to show you”.

Update: Sadly, Stanford Ovshinsky passed away on October 17, 2012 – five months after this piece was originally posted.

Words of the Week

Study the past if you want to define the future.
– Confucius