Little-Known Stories of Revolutionary Inventors at NHM


Courtesy of the CT State Libraries - The first home of George Coy’s telephone exchange, New Haven

New Haven, Conn. (January 21, 2021)–From the New Haven inventor who inspired Edison and the woman who “sold” time, to the hotheaded undertaker whose work led to the computer, scientist and author Ainissa Ramirez will share the lesser-known backgrounds of common-place inventions and how they have shaped our culture during “The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another,” via Zoom on Wednesday, February 18, 2021, at 6 p.m. Register here. The New Haven Museum (NHM) presentation is based on Ramirez’s book of the same name, which is available for purchase by emailing info@newhavenmuseum.org or calling 203-562-4183, ext. 119.

Ramirez will guide us from the enthusiastic reception Alexander Graham Bell received at the Skiff Opera House in New Haven in 1877 to the subsequent involvement of George Coy, who developed the first telephone switchboard in New Haven—using wires repurposed from his wife’s undergarments—to the “metallurgical miracle” created by Gordon Teal at a small company known as Texas Instruments that would revolutionize computers and ultimately alter how human beings think.

In “The Alchemy of Us,” Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. She describes, among other things, 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. The fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

Ramirez showcases little-known inventors—particularly people of color and women—who had a significant impact but whose accomplishments have been hidden by mythmaking, bias, and convention. Doing so, she shows us the power of telling inclusive stories about technology. She also shows that innovation is universal—whether it's splicing beats with two turntables and a microphone or splicing genes with two test tubes and CRISPR.

The book’s accolades include being named as one of Smithsonian Magazine’s Ten Best Science books of 2020, and one of 2020’s Best Science Books by Science Friday and Amazon.

About Ainissa Ramirez

Ramirez is an award-winning scientist and science communicator who is passionate about getting the general public excited about science. A graduate of Brown University, she earned her doctorate in materials science and engineering from Stanford. Ramirez started her career as a scientist at Bell Laboratories and later worked as an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Yale University. She has also authored “Save Our Science” and co-authored “Newton’s Football.” She has written for Forbes, Time, The Atlantic, Scientific American, American Scientist, and Science and has explained science headlines on CBS, CNN, NPR, ESPN, and PBS. She speaks widely on the topics of science and technology, and gave a TED talk on the importance of science education. She has been awarded prizes from the National Science Foundation, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and the American Institute of Physics. She speaks internationally on the importance of making science fun and has served as a science advisor to the American Film Institute, WGBH/NOVA, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and several science museums. She also hosts the science podcast, Science Underground.

About the New Haven Museum

The New Haven Museum has been collecting, preserving and interpreting the history and heritage of Greater New Haven since its inception as the New Haven Colony Historical Society in 1862. Located in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue, the Museum brings more than 375 years of New Haven history to life through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach. As a designated Blue Star Museum, the New Haven Museum offers the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, free admission from Memorial Day through Labor Day. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or Facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.

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