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10 inspiring women engineers, scientists

11 Mar 2014  | Suzanne Deffree

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Eileen Bartholomew

Eileen Bartholomew

When Eileen Bartholomew spoke at January's DesignCon event, she did so to a crowd on the edge of their seats.

Eileen heads prize development for the X PRIZE Foundation, an organization dedicated to developing radical breakthroughs for the benefit of humanity through incentive prize competitions. Some of the foundation's better known competitions include a $10 million prize to create a battery 500 to 1,000 percent better than today's technology, the $10 million Ansari X Prize for creating a vehicle that put three people 100km into space twice within two weeks, and the Qualcomm X Prize for the design of a Star Trek tricorder-like handheld device that can diagnose 15 diseases and record five vital signs.

Not a studied engineer, she holds a Bachelor of Arts in Biology from Harvard College and is a graduate of Singularity University. But, in short, she's spending her career inspiring people to explore new ideas that could benefit the world in major ways, much of which comes about via engineering.

"What attracted me to the X PRIZE model was that the foundation helps companies innovate by announcing an audacious but achievable target and challenging the world's greatest thinkers to solve it. And, as a result, they create new markets, like private space travel, ocean exploration, and consumer digital health," Eileen told EDN before her DesignCon keynote.

"Technological change is accelerating at an exponential rate, putting extremely powerful technologies in the hands of small and nimble teams. Unfortunately, pursuing meaningful breakthroughs requires an appetite for risk and tolerance for failure most companies simply do not possess," she said of a current shift from company-based innovation to crowd-based innovation.

It's no wonder that after her DesignCon keynote, slews of engineers line up to meet her.

Melissa and Lavanya Jawaharlal

Through various courses, classroom activities and camps, STEM Center USA aims to develop a passion for STEM in kids at a young age with a learn-by-doing curriculum that will stay with them through middle school and high school.

The center came about when two sisters, who spent years supporting each other as students of STEM, then teachers and mentors of STEM programs, decided to share their excitement and enthusiasm with students.

Melissa Jawaharlal is a co-founder and CEO of STEM Center and engineer at Raytheon Space and Airborne Systems. She studied at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and got her Bachelor's in Mechanical Engineering at the University of Southern California. Her research field is primarily in space exploration, in which she's served as a design lead for currently orbiting satellites at the Information Sciences Institute as well as performed software optimization for the United States Air Force.

Melissa teamed with her sister Lavanya Jawaharlal for STEM Center. As president and co-founder, Lavanya is with the mechanical engineering program at the University of California, Berkeley. With a background in robotics, Lavanya has participated in STEM-related activities for more than six years and is part of a FIRST Robotics Competition Team, which won the 2011 Los Angeles Regional Competition. Lavanya has competed in both Jet Propulsion Lab and Raytheon competitions, placing second and third respectively.

Not to miss an opportunity to tout the benefits of STEM, both sister have presented at major conferences, including the 2010 National Collegiate Inventors & Innovators Alliance, the 2011 Chinese Institute of Engineers Conference, and at MIT through the its Lemelson-MIT InvenTeams program.

"One of the oldest proverbs you'll hear is, don't reinvent the wheel. But we want every kid to reinvent the wheel. We want kids to learn through discovery," Melissa noted.

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