Over 600 inventors have been inducted into The National Inventors Hall of Fame (NIHF) since the Ohio-based organization was founded in 1973. While there have never been any Black women inducted into the group, that will soon be changing.
NPR’s Rachel Treisman has reported that engineer Marian Croak and the late ophthalmologist Patricia Bath will soon make history as part of the Hall of Fame’s next class of inductees. The pair will join the 48 female inductees and 30 Black male inductees, both living and dead, already included among those honored by the NIHF.
In a statement, NIHF CEO Michael Oister said, “innovation drives the worldwide economy forward and improves our quality of life. This is especially apparent given what we have experienced over the past 18 months. It’s why at the National Inventors Hall of Fame, we are privileged to honor our country’s most significant inventors, who are giving the next generation the inspiration to innovate, create, and solve current and future problems.”
According to the NIHF, Bath — who died in 2019 at age 76 — was a “pioneering” ophthalmologist whose work forever changed cataract surgery.
“She is recognized as the first Black female physician to receive a medical patent, the first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University and the first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the U.S. (the King-Drew-UCLA Ophthalmology Residency Program), to name just a few of her accolades,” Treisman said.
In the 80s, Bath invented the laserphaco, which assists with cataract removal. The minimally invasive device creates an incision in the eye, helping to break down the lens before being removed. The laserphaco was also able to vacuum out fragments of the original lens once it was destroyed, allowing a new lens to cleanly and easily be inserted in its place.
Bath received a patent for the laserphaco in 1988, and the device was routinely used in Europe and Asia around a decade later.
Like Bath, engineer Marian Croak is a game-changer in the field of technology. She currently leads Google’s Research Center for Responsible AI and Human Centered Technology and has patented more than 200 innovations over the course of her career.
“Her work on Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) focuses on converting voice data into digital signals that can be transmitted over the internet rather than through phone lines,” Treisman said. “It has [greatly] advanced the capability of audio- and videoconferencing.”
The technology is now an essential part of the video conferencing we all routinely use for remote work.
“Croak said in a recent interview with Google that her interest in the field goes back to age 5 or 6 when she would follow engineers and plumbers around her house to learn how they fixed things,” Treisman reported. “Fast-forward a few decades to the late 1990s when Croak was working at AT&T [a DiversityInc Hall of Fame company] and started working on VoIP. She said critics believed no one would ever use the ‘toy-like’ technology, which originally wasn’t very reliable — but her team eventually made so much progress that AT&T began to use it for its core network, an accomplishment she found even more exciting because of all the doubts and criticism she had faced along the way.”
In a statement she made on Google’s company blog, Croak said she was humbled and honored to be welcomed into the NIHF, especially as one of the first-ever Black women to receive the honor.
“I find that it inspires people when they see someone who looks like themselves on some dimension, and I’m proud to offer that type of representation,” she said. “People also see that I’m just a normal person like themselves, and I think that also inspires them to accomplish their goals. I want people to understand that it may be difficult but that they can overcome obstacles and that it will be so worth it.”
“Croak and Bath are among the seven honorees announced this month and will join the 22 others announced last year as the hall of fame’s Class of 2022,” Treisman said. “All 29 will be celebrated and inducted at back-to-back ceremonies in Alexandria, Va., and Washington, D.C., in early May.”
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