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Women of Courage: Princess Leia

Star Wars 8 Princess Leia

Princess Leia Organa: The Princess Who Rescued Back

“You get to choose what monsters you want to slay. I’m sorry to say this again, but let’s face it – the Force is with you.”–Carrie Fisher

There are real-life courageous women and there are fictional heroines, but today it’s my pleasure to discuss a woman who is both. Princess Leia Organa of the Star Wars franchise has been inspiring moviegoers for forty years.

When the series first launched, the young princess was already leading the rebellion against the Empire. Through four decades of films, Princess Leia was a soldier, a diplomat, general, and a war hero. Though the Force was strong in her, she chose serve her people as leader instead of becoming a Jedi. And while others’ loyalties shifted, or players drifted in and out of service to the rebellion, Princess Leia remained steadfast.

Carrie Fisher (1956-2016), the actress who portrayed Leia, was courageous in her own right. The outspoken Fisher was also a fierce advocate of mental health and openly shared her own struggles with addiction and bipolar disorder. Riotously funny, she fought the stigma of mental health with fierce honesty.

How She’s Courageous

From her first appearance in the iconic buns, to the gently graying general in 2015’s The Force Awakens, Princess Leia was an unflagging champion of the rebellion. She was one of only two characters who stood up to Darth Vader—a man whose own subordinates winced and scurried at his words. Perceptive and insightful, Princess Leia could instantly size up enemy or ally,  and deliver a character indictment in one biting quip.

In the original 1977 Star Wars script, Luke and Han Solo found Princess Leia bruised, beaten, and suspended upside down. It was only when the logistics of carting around a catatonic Leia became problematic that they revised the scene. The princess gig has never been the same.

How She’s Affected Me

Princess Leia changed everything I knew about princesses. As a girl who grew up on a steady diet of Disney Princesses, I understood perfectly that princesses needed rescuing. What I didn’t know was that this one would rescue back.

That she was different was clear in the split-second it took for her to size up Luke Skywalker’s disguise.

“Aren’t you a little short for a storm trooper?” she asked, the corner of her mouth quirked in a wry smile.

Minutes later, as Luke and Han Solo’s half-conceived rescue plan crumbled before them, she snatched a blaster and declared, “Somebody has to save our skins.”

I sat a little straighter in my chair. It was 1977 and my whole perception of princesses–and women–shifted in that moment.

How She’s Affected Others

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.” – Carrie Fisher
Princess Leia was strong at a time when women in film weren’t strong. She was many girls’ first glimpse of a truly heroic woman (myself included). Not only was she brave, she was in control of her own destiny. She was an icon of unwavering leadership.

Carrie Fisher was deeply conscious what Princess Leia meant to women, and this integrity is reflected both in her performance and her contributions to the script and character development.

Learn More

Here’s the part where I normally include links to learn more. But in this case, I’m going to suggest you run out and buy a box set and go on a Star Wars binge. The Last Jedi is in theatres on December 15th, so there’s still time to get yourself primed for the next in the Star Wars series.

Originally published on

Lisa Seacat DeLuca, the Woman Single Handedly Closing the Gender Gap in Patents

Look, women were bringing innovative ideas to science and engineering long before Hypatia invented the hydrometer in 400 AD. In spite of that, less than 20% of US patents include a woman inventor. However, one young woman is single-handedly closing the gender gap in patents.

Her name is Lisa Seacat DeLuca. She’s only 35 years old, but she’s already filed more than 400 patents. A software engineer at IBM, DeLuca has filed patents for smart technology like location-based advertising, and subject-based conference call alerts. She’s currently IBM’s most prolific female inventor.

She started inventing in second grade when a teacher challenged her to solve a real-world problem. Her solution? Create a full-length umbrella to keep driving Montana rains from getting her pants wet. Okay, some might just call it a shower curtain, but even then DeLuca knew she had a passion for problem-solving. Since then, she’s set to work reimagining our future.

“Taking a risk is always scarier when there are unknowns. Removing these unknowns helps people become more comfortable with making bold choices in life.”DeLuca applies existing technology to solve everyday problems. With the right software, she believes every household item can become smart. The world of the Jetsons is within her grasp; DeLuca envisions a world where toilet paper rolls order their own replacements and unworn clothing alerts you to donate them.

It’s only January and she’s already been awarded seven patents, including a program that can determine the paths of shoppers in a shopping venue.

Though men outnumber women four-to-one in the patent books, Ms. DeLuca is well on her way to filling the gap in intellectual property. She’s passionate about bringing women and girls into technology. In talking to a group of Girls Who Code high school students, DeLuca said, “Taking a risk is always scarier when there are unknowns. Removing these unknowns helps people become more comfortable with making bold choices in lif

Donna Strickland, Nobel Prize Winning Laser Jock

By Bengt Nyman from Vaxholm, Sweden – Donna Strickland EM1B5760, CC BY 2.0, Link

Women. Winning the Nobel prize every sixty years or so.

“The world works best if we all do what we’re good at.”
–Donna Strickland Look, the Nobel prize committee has not now—nor will they ever—consult me on who should win that prestigious award. But this particular Badass Woman of STEM deserves it a few times over. Her name is Donna Strickland and she’s an optical physicist who likes to refer to herself as a ‘laser jock’.

Strickland was the first woman to receive the prize since 1963. Before that it was Marie Curie in 1903.

The world works best if we all do what we're good at -- Donna Strickland

On October 2, 2018 Strickland won the Nobel prize, along with her doctoral adviser Gérard Mourou, and American scientist Arthur Ashkin. The award was for their work in optical tweezers. These tweezers are highly focused ‘tractor beams’ of light that can be used to grab particles, atoms and even living cells. They’re already being used to study the very building blocks of life. Strickland’s Nobel-prize-winning research will change our world for decades or even centuries to come.

Gérard Mourou came up with the theory of increasing laser intensity by orders of magnitude. He challenged Strickland to prove it out. She worked through many unanticipated challenges in order to make the theoretical practical, from building a pulse stretcher, to prototyping a laser amplifier, to developing a pulse compressor. In other words, she scienced the crap out of it.

Until her Nobel prize, Strickland wasn’t even a full professor. After winning, she applied and was promoted to a full professorship at the University of Waterloo.

Though she didn’t even have a Wikipedia page until October 2 of this year, her work in lasers began decades earlier. Her doctoral thesis “Development of an ultra-bright laser and an application to multi-photon ionization” was more than just a fun beach read—it was a foundation for a life’s work.

In 1985, she and Mourou invented chirped pulse lasers. These light beams are capable of making ultra-precise cuts, cuts which are now used to perform millions of corrective laser eye surgeries.

Strickland's ultrafast laser group at University of Waterloo, in June 2017
Strickland’s ultrafast laser group at University of Waterloo, in June 2017 }

If it weren’t enough that she’s helped the blind to see, she’s currently leading a diverse group of physics students in an Ultrafast Laser Group at the University of Waterloo.

When asked about gender disparity in her field, and her decision to choose physics over being a stay-at-home mom, Strickland said, “The world works best if we all do what we’re good at.”

It sounds like good advice for anyone.