For every Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin whose story has been told, hundreds of female scientists remain unknown to the public at large. In this series, we illuminate the lives and work of a diverse array of groundbreaking scientists who, because of time, place and gender, have gone largely unrecognized. Each season we focus on a different scientist, putting her narrative into context, explaining not just the science but also the social and historical conditions in which she lived and worked. We also bring these stories to the present, painting a full picture of how her work endures.
Emma Unson Rotor took leave from her job as a math teacher in the Philippines to study physics at Johns Hopkins University in 1941. Her plans were disrupted when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded and occupied the Philippines. Unable to access her Philippine government scholarship to attend Johns Hopkins, she joined the Ordnance Development Division at the National Bureau of Standards. It was here that she did groundbreaking research on the proximity fuze, the “world’s first ‘smart’ weapon,” in the words of physicist Frank Belknap Baldwin, who also helped develop the technology.