Women's Innovation Center

Guess What’s Coming to Alexandria!

Students viewing and listening to a solar eclipse at Space Center Houston. (Photo: Allyson Bieryla)

By Jane Plitt

Alexandria, VA – The Dr. Gladys West mobile exhibit has found a home, and Alexandrians will find out where (and cheer, we hope) on May 23. Will it be at the Lyceum, the City of Alexandria’s marvelous historic showcase, or maybe City Hall? Or will it be at the National Inventors Hall of Fame Museum or Virginia Tech’s Innovation Campus?

Perhaps it’s a supporting business that wants to showcase Dr. West’s extraordinary journey as a brilliant black mathematician encountering racial and gender challenges. Despite those obstacles, she applied her skills to map the world precisely and enable us all to have GPS (Global Positioning System). If you are eager to support this project and want to be on the early bird notice list about its location and how you can help, email me at [email protected].

The team conducted workshops for volunteers to build their own LightSound devices. Even middle-school-age Girl Scouts took up soldering tools. (Photo: Allyson Bieryla)

I hope you caught us at the ALX Dogwalk when Brittany Greer, Executive Director of Rosie Riveters, and I demonstrated the Dr. Gladys West GPS Challenge, which is now available for your children’s schools or Girl Scout troops. The module teaches us that gravity makes the world squishy, not round. Everyone was delighted to receive the keychain with the squishy world, which reminded us of Dr. West’s ability to measure gravity’s impact so we all get home safely!

The need for innovation continues, as demonstrated by the recent solar eclipse. Millions of us delighted in viewing “The Happening,” but what if you were visually impaired or blind? Fortunately, thanks to the inventiveness and sensitivity of two women astronomers, the problem was solved by Allyson Bieryla, the manager of Harvard’s undergraduate astronomy lab and telescopes, and Wanda Díaz Merced, who is blind and at the time was with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

From left, Sǒley Hyman, Allyson Bieryla, and Wanda Díaz Merced, the LightSound Team. (Photo: Allyson Bieryla)

Their LightSound device translates changing light intensity into musical tones that change as the sky grows dark and brightens again. In 2018, another woman redesigned it: Harvard undergrad Sǒley Hyman incorporated a synthesizer board and developed a code for its flute, clarinet, and clicking sounds. This year, the team distributed 900 LightSound devices across the country to event organizers, libraries, museums, universities, and schools for blind students, and even conducted workshops for volunteers to build their own devices. Even middle-school-age Girl Scouts took up soldering tools they had never used to make these kits.

I spoke to Bieryla, and she is anxious to expand their efforts. Can you imagine bringing Bieryla and her team to lead our community and help her effort? NCWI envisions this as we team up with innovators to open possibilities for all. Brava to a passionate group of women led by Bieryla and her team who have given an unexpected gift so visually impaired individuals can now experience solar eclipses using sound instead of sight.

Another Wonderful Volunteer

Denise Guiterrez-Adrian (Courtesy of Denise Guiterrez-Adrian)

Speaking of teaming up, Denise Gutierrez-Adrian was recruited by Mary Glerum, our volunteer coordinator of social media and many other key IT initiatives you read about last month. Denise’s journey with NCWI began in September 2023, coinciding perfectly with developing branding materials for their Inaugural Gala. She conceptualized and crafted compelling visual narratives that celebrated the often-overlooked contributions of women innovators. Whether designing intuitive graphics for donation materials or strategizing digital presence, Denise’s passion for her work has shone through NCWI.

The squishy world keychain demonstrates how GPS was possible. (Photo: Allyson Bieryla)

Denise expresses genuine enthusiasm, “Joining NCWI was a natural fit for me. The moment I learned about their mission to highlight forgotten women innovators, I knew I wanted to lend my skills as a designer. My background in product innovation from the Da Vinci Program at Virginia Commonwealth University has been invaluable, especially in sparking engagement on social media and inspiring young girls to pursue STEM fields. Being part of NCWI’s journey and witnessing our positive impact in communities has been incredibly rewarding.”

Denise’s authentic dedication to leveraging design for social good is evident in every aspect of her work with NCWI, and she eagerly anticipates the exciting transformations that lie ahead.

Do you have accounting skills and 2-4 hours a month to contribute? We need you! Our dedicated volunteer treasurer, Faduma Hussein, needs to step down. We are eager to replace her with someone as adept at accounting and dedicated as she is. Contact me at [email protected] if you want to get involved. We are grateful to all our volunteers and contributors to our Spring2Action this year, led by Lucelle O’Flaherty, Ann Kaupp, and Mary Glerum!

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