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The Woman Who Tamed Lightning

Series looking at amazing events and characters from science history.

In the 1870s with a degree from Cambridge University, Herta Marks was making a living teaching and inventing. She sold maths puzzles to magazines and designed a draftsman's device which divided lines into equal parts and enlarged or shrank drawings. The "Marks' Patent Line Divider" was very well reviewed. Herta had worked much of her early life as her father had died when she was seven leaving the family with debts.

Still eager to learn, Hertha Marks signed up for a series of classes about the exciting new field of electricity at Finsbury Technical College, taught by William Ayrton. She went on to marry William Ayrton. Her marriage gave her the stability and income to be able to do more inventing. Arc lights had started to be use as street lighting but they flickered and could send out sparks that caused fires. Herta Marks Ayrton found a way to make safer arc lights.

Naomi Alderman tells the story of Herta Marks Ayrton. She talks to Dr Naomi Paxton, cultural historian at the University of London, about the impact of the invention of safe street lighting on women's lives at the start of the 20th century, and to Naomi Climer, the first female president of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, which - unlike the Royal Society - was quick to acknowledge Hertha Marks Ayrton's achievements, about the legacy of arc lighting.

Available now

28 minutes


  • Wed 21 Dec 2016 21:00