Engineering, Yvette

The Journey to Hedy

Some of you may be wondering the origin of our blog’s title.  Why is ‘hedy/heady’ spelt wrong?  Is hedy an adverb of some kind?  Or, the film buffs amongst you, why have you named your engineering blog after an Austrian actress?

As with all the best ideas involving our endeavour, the name, A Hedy Journey, is Sarah’s brainchild.  It is named after Hedy Lamarr, actress and inventor of Frequency Hopping Spread Spectrum (FHSS). But why?  She was selected because, at face value, she embodies what we strive for, a complimentary balance of being a fabulous, beautiful woman, as well as advancing the world through engineering.

I am unsure if this is a universal feeling or not but sometimes, I find glowing biographies full of lofty achievements hard to swallow because I find it hard to identify with the heroines, as if their life story was all as rosy as my Instagram feed.  But reading Hedy’s biography (I read Hedy’s Folly, although there are many other options) allowed me to see this incredible woman as someone real who happened to achieve amazing things; something that can be tangibly aspired to by us mere mortal non-Hollywood types.

But back to the headlines for a moment. 

While married to Fritz Mandl, bored from her confinement to her home and exposed to lavish parties entertaining German officers, Hedy developed an interest in applied science.  When she later fled her husband and moved to Hollywood, via Paris, she invented in her leisure time and volunteered her ideas to assist the war effort.

Hedy devised the idea of synchronised frequency hopping as a means of preventing radio missiles from being jammed.  The principle for this idea was inspired by the workings of the pianola (self-playing piano) which used paper rolls with holes punched to “program” the tune.  Hedy’s missiles were fitted with the same “song” as the radio transmitter so that the frequency that the transmitter hopped between matched that which the missile was set to receive, at the same time.

As most of us will know, Hedy was a very successful actress, appearing in 30 feature films over her popular career.  But there were some other aspects of Hedy’s life which endeared her to me, and will perhaps strike a chord with you too.

Hedy made her own mistakes and survived them, particularly a controlling marriage, a controversial nude scene which often resurfaced, legal scandals, a series of unsuccessful relationships and social isolation.  She didn’t have it all.

Despite being billed as the most beautiful woman in the world, Hedy still suffered from body confidence issues. In fact, the reason that Hedy encountered George Antiel, a composer with whom she collaborated in the development of FHSS, was because she wanted Antiel, an amateur endocrinologist, to investigate ways to make her breasts bigger.

Hedy was imperfect, like the rest of us, but is remembered for her talents as an actress, engineer and war heroine.  We honour her, and others like her, by celebrating ALL of the things which make us us – the things which contribute to our successes, our failures and hopefully our legacies.  So, on our Hedy journey, let’s embrace the good, the bad and the geeky, and maybe we’ll be able to change the world like Hedy Lamarr.

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