Hungarian men have often been in the news, but Hungarian women who have made important contributions to scientific areas are rarely mentioned. Here are just a few outstanding Magyar women from an astrophysicist through the youngest-ever president of MENSA International to the designer of the very first reinforced-concrete skyscraper in the world.
Madeleine Forro Barnothy (1904 – 1995)
An astrophysicist and a pioneer in the study of Cosmic Radiation, Bio-Magnetism and Magnetic Therapy (Whew!), she was the first woman to earn a doctorate in physics in Hungary. She and her future husband, Jeno M. Barnothy, designed one of the first cosmic-ray telescopes. After World War II, the then-married couple settled in Evanston, Illinois, USA, where Madeleine was professor of physics at the University of Illinois Medical School at Chicago. Once in America, the couple’s scientific interest shifted to astrophysics, in which they pioneered the study of gravitational lensing and its effect on quasars. Our readers are undoubtedly well-versed in this subject, so we need say no more about it at this time.
After having served various positions within the MENSA organization since 1994, Bibiana Balanyi was recently elected to head this international organization of 130,000 members. Ms. Balanyi served as the Hungarian MENSA group’s president for ten years, becoming the international organisation’s director for development in 2009. Her four years in this position gave her the chance to gain international experience and exposure before running for the post of global president. Ms. Balanyi will take over for a two-year term from her American predecessor on July 1, 2016. She is set to become the international association’s third female leader and its youngest-ever president.
Mensa was founded as an international association in Great-Britain in 1946. As a non-political organisation, it aims to serve as an international group for people of upper-level intelligence, without regard for age, sex, race or social position. The only criterion of membership is to possess a level of intelligence characteristic of the highest two per cent of people.
Eszter Pécsi (1898 – 1975)
Can you guess who designed the very first reinforced-concrete skyscraper in the world? If you guessed Eszter Pécsi, you’d be right. She was also the first woman to receive a degree in engineering in Hungary (1920). Her legacy in Hungary is limited due to the fact that in 1957 she fled Hungary for Vienna, where she worked for a year, designing the city’s first multi-level parking garage. From 1958 until her death, she lived and worked in New York City, USA. Included in her works are three of that city’s most well-known reinforced-concrete skyscrapers. For these three works, Pécsi received the year’s best structural engineering design award from New York City. She was also the structural designer of numerous buildings of New York University.
Mária Telkes (1900 – 1995)
Over a career spanning more than 70 years, this award-winning Hungarian scientist achieved her fame mostly while living in New York City, USA, after completing her PhD in physical chemistry in Hungary. In New York, she worked as a biophysicist and was also one of the first scientists to be involved in solar energy research. She created the very first thermoelectric power generator in 1947. She also designed the first solar heating system and the first thermoelectric refrigerator in 1953, using the principles of semiconductor thermoelectricity. Whew again!
Telkes is considered one of the founders of solar thermal storage systems, earning her the nickname, “Sun Queen.” In 2012 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.
Erzsébet Róna (1890 – 1981)
After beginning her scientific career as a nuclear chemist in Hungary, Ms. Rona became widely recognized for her pioneering work in isotope separation and polonium preparation (please contact us if you know what that is).
After being awarded the Austrian Academy of Science’s Haitinger Prize in 1933, she emigrated to the USA in 1941, where she provided technical information on her polonium extraction methods to the Manhattan Project (America’s ultra-secret “atomic bomb” project). She was posthumously inducted into the Tennessee Women’s Hall of Fame in 2015.