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Which pieces of technology have most impacted modern society—and who made them? Scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez joins us via livestream with an examination of eight inventions that have shaped the human experience—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips. Drawing from her book The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another, Ramirez chronicles each invention and its consequences—both intended and unintended. She describes how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway’s writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid’s cameras to create passbooks to track black citizens in apartheid South Africa.
Ramirez shifts our perspective through these fascinating and inspiring stories, and fills in the gaps left by history books to introduce us to the little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—whose innovations have shaped our culture. Ramirez invites us to a conversation about the importance of inclusive stories about pivotal technology—and a commentary on the universality of innovation.
Ainissa Ramirez is a materials scientist and sought-after public speaker and science communicator. She has worked as a research scientist at Bell Labs and held academic positions at Yale University and MIT. She has written for Time, Scientific American, the American Scientist, and Forbes, and makes regular appearances on PBS’s SciTech Now.
Presented by Town Hall Seattle.