ALD21: Dr Jeanne Lee Crews, Aerospace Engineer

Dr Jeanne Lee Crews

Dr Jeanne Lee Crews is a NASA aerospace engineer who designed a flexible multi-shock shield to protect spacecraft from debris, and which is still in use on the International Space Station.

Lee Crews joined NASA in 1964, one of the first female engineers to join the agency. She initially worked on the Apollo missions, identifying landmarks that the astronauts could use to navigate by, if primary systems failed. During this project, she became one of the first women to go on a zero-G flight.

She later began the hyper-velocity laboratory, where she worked on developing advanced protection for spacecraft and satellites. It was, by then, already clear that collisions with even very small pieces of space debris, travelling at orbital speeds, can cause severe damage. Lee Crews built a small hydrogen fuelled gun to begin testing materials to see how well they withstood high-velocity impacts. She rapidly realised that the aluminium usually used to build spacecraft was vulnerable to debris collisions so, to achieve better protection, she developed a shield comprising multiple layers of ceramic fabric, open-cell foam and other materials.

More recently, Lee Crews has been working on a method to collect orbital debris. Her design calls for a very large balloon, between 1km and 10km in diameter, made of ceramic fabric, that will “shock whatever has struck the craft so much that it is vaporised. If you have four or five sheets, one behind the other, you shock it repeatedly and raise energy levels so much you get more vaporisation and it gets smaller and smaller.” Once full, the balloon would be returned to Earth.

Lee Crews has received many awards, including the Women in Aerospace Lifetime Achievement Award, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the NASA Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Further reading

ALD21 Books: Built on Bones, Dr Brenna Hassett

Dr Brenna Hassett

Built on Bones: 15,000 Years of Urban Life and Death, Dr Brenna Hassett

Imagine you are a hunter-gatherer some 15,000 years ago. You’ve got a choice – carry on foraging, or plant a few seeds and move to one of those new-fangled settlements down the valley. What you won’t know is that urban life is short and riddled with dozens of new diseases; your children will be shorter and sicklier than you are, they’ll be plagued with gum disease, and stand a decent chance of a violent death at the point of a spear.

Why would anyone choose this? This is one of the many intriguing questions tackled by Brenna Hassett in Built on Bones. Using research on skeletal remains from around the world, this book explores the history of humanity’s experiment with the metropolis, and looks at why our ancestors chose city life, and why they have largely stuck to it. It explains the diseases, the deaths and the many other misadventures that we have unwittingly unleashed upon ourselves throughout the metropolitan past, and as the world becomes increasingly urbanised, what we can look forward to in the future.

Telling the tale of shifts in human growth and health that have occurred as we transitioned from a mobile to a largely settled species. Built on Bones offers an accessible insight into a critical but relatively unheralded aspect of the human story: our recent evolution.

Order the book on here and your purchase will support a local independent bookshop of your choice!

You can follow her work here:

Twitter: @brennawalks

ALD21 Archive: Deep ocean exploration – Dr Diva Amon, 2018

Deep ocean exploration – Dr Diva Amon, 2018

Dr Diva Amon takes us underneath the waves to explore the deep ocean, and the very bizarre love lives of some of the creatures living there. 

Dr Diva Amon is a Trinidadian deep-sea biologist who studies chemosynthetic habitats and human impacts on the deep ocean. She is a Scientific Associate at the Natural History Museum in London, where she also undertook a Marie Skłodowska-Curie research fellowship. In 2013, she completed her PhD at the University of Southampton, after which, she spent three years at the University of Hawai’i, researching the largely unknown abyssal fauna of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone, an area targeted for deep-sea mining in the Pacific Ocean. Throughout her career, Diva has participated in deep-sea expeditions around the world, exploring and studying previously unknown habitats, while trying her best to communicate the wonders of the deep ocean. Diva is also a co-founder of the non-profit NGO, SpeSeas. 

You can follow her work here:


Recorded at the IET and sponsored by Digital Science, you can watch the rest of the Ada Lovelace Day Live 2018 playlist here.

ALD21: Dr Marjorie Lee Browne, Mathematician and Educator

Dr Marjorie Lee Browne

Marjorie Lee Browne was the third African-American woman to get a PhD in mathematics, and opened one of the first computer centres at an historically Black university.

Browne studied mathematics at Howard University and graduated cum laude in 1935. She then applied for the graduate program at the University of Michigan for mathematics. She could only attend Michigan during the summer because she was working the rest of the year at Wiley College in Marshall, Texas.

She eventually received a teaching fellowship at Michigan University, meaning she could attend full-time. She completed her dissertation, Studies of One Parameter Subgroups of Certain Topological and Matrix Groups, and completed her doctorate in 1949. After Euphemia Haynes in 1943, and together with Evelyn Boyd Granville, she was one of the first three African-American women to earn a doctorate in mathematics in the US.

She went on to join the faculty of mathematics at North Carolina College (now North Carolina Central University, NCCU), and for 25 years she was the only person in the department to have a doctorate. She was department Chair from 1951 until 1970, and retired in 1979.

Browne recognised the importance of computers, and in 1960 she wrote a grant proposal to IBM, winning $60,000 to set up an electronic digital computer centre at NCCU, one of the first at a minority college.

She ran summer institutes to help secondary school teachers develop their own mathematics education, and provided financial support to gifted students. She was the first recipient of the WW Rankin Memorial Award for Excellence in Mathematics Education, presented by the North Carolina Council of Teachers of Mathematics. The University of Michigan runs the Marjorie Lee Brown Scholars program in her honour.

Further reading

ALD21 Archive: What does ice-cream tell us about chemical engineering? – Yasmin Ali, 2017

What does ice-cream tell us about chemical engineering? – Yasmin Ali, 2017

Yasmin Ali demonstrates what chemical engineering and ice-cream have in common.

Yasmin is an Energy Engineering Specialist for the government, in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. She has also worked as a chartered chemical engineer in the energy industry, with experience in coal and gas-fired power stations, as well as the UK oil and gas sector.

Outside of work Yasmin is a keen volunteer and dedicates much of her time to promoting engineering at schools, career fairs and festivals, with a variety of organisations including the IET, IChemE, and WES. She is also passionate about informing the public about engineering through the media, and has worked with the BBC’s science unit. Yasmin also enjoys stand-up comedy, music and sports!

You can follow her work here:


Recorded at the Royal Institution, you can watch the rest of the Ada Lovelace Day Live 2017 playlist here.