8 Dazzling Facts About Hedy Lamarr

Public Domain
Public Domain

You may know Hedy Lamarr, the sultry siren of the silver screen. But have you heard of Hedy Lamarr, inventor, engineer, and "the mother of Wi-Fi"? Allow us to introduce you.

1. SHE WAS A SERIAL—AND STRATEGIC—BRIDE.

Born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, the artist eventually known as Hedy Lamarr married six times between 1933 and 1965. Her last wedding vows were spoken to her own divorce lawyer, though he, too, eventually got the boot. But Lamarr didn't go through all that for nothing. Alongside her first husband, arms dealer and Mussolini sympathizer Friedrich Mandl, Lamarr was privy to the ins and outs of Austrian weapons manufacturing and trade—information she would later offer to the U.S. military during World War II. 

2. THAT MARRIAGE HAD A HOLLYWOOD ENDING…

Believe it or not, Lamarr did not especially enjoy her marriage to a fascist. But she also didn't feel safe simply asking the powerful, controlling man for a divorce. Instead, she resorted to a most theatrical strategy: dressing as her own maid and fleeing to Paris by moonlight.

3. …WHICH BROUGHT HER TO HOLLYWOOD.

Color lobby card showing Hedy Lamarr embracing a smirking Clark Gable.
MGM, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Lamarr had been acting since she was a teenager, but it was a chance encounter with MGM studio chief Louis B. Mayer that made her a household name. Lamarr left Europe and moved to California, where Mayer cast her as the vampy love interest opposite superstars like Spencer Tracy, Jimmy Stewart, and Clark Gable.

4. THE STARLET LIFE WAS NOT ALL IT WAS CRACKED UP TO BE.

Black and white image of Hedy Lamarr and George Sanders in the film The Strange Woman.
MGM, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Studio executives loved Lamarr for her looks (Mayer regularly billed her as "the most beautiful woman in the world") and her exotic persona. But they didn't seem to care much about letting her act. "Any girl can be glamorous," Lamarr once said. "All you have to do is stand still and look stupid."

Before long, Lamarr tired of standing still. She got bored. And then, fortunately for us, she started tinkering.

5. SHE HAD A MIND FOR ENGINEERING.

Lamarr became a prolific inventor. She created a fizzing cube that turned water into instant cola. She started sketching blueprints for unheard-of machines. She took up with millionaire aviator Howard Hughes and drafted new fish- and bird-inspired designs for the wings of his airplanes.

6. WE MIGHT NOT HAVE WI-FI WITHOUT HER.

One night while standing over a piano at a party, Lamarr made friends with composer George Antheil. The two discovered they shared a passion for creating and an intense curiosity about how things work. Using Lamarr's knowledge of weapons design and Antheil's of musical instruments, they created what they called a "frequency-hopping system": a device inspired by the roll of a player piano that could allow military torpedoes to sidestep enemy efforts at radio interference. The fundamental structure of this system would go on to inform many of the devices we rely on today, including GPS and wireless internet.

7. THE GOVERNMENT IGNORED HER TALENTS AT FIRST.

Lamarr offered both her invention and her knowledge to aid the U.S. war effort, but was dismissed. Charles F. Kettering of the National Inventors Council told Lamarr she could serve her country better by using her fame and pretty face to sell war bonds. Gamely, she did, raising $25 million (that's about $340 million today) for the military through public appearances. 

Two decades later, the Navy finally caught on to the potential of Lamarr and Antheil's invention and built frequency-hopping technology into the all-important radios used during the Cuban missile crisis. 

8. SHE GOT THE RECOGNITION SHE DESERVED…EVENTUALLY.

Lamarr received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1960, but it wasn't until 2014—fourteen years after her death—that she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Bombshell, Victoria’s Secret’s Bestselling Fragrance, Also Happens to Repel Mosquitoes

Dids, Pexels
Dids, Pexels

People love Bombshell, the best-selling fragrance at Victoria’s Secret, for its summery blend of fruity and floral notes. Not everyone is a huge fan, though: As Quartz reports, the perfume is surprisingly good at warding off mosquitoes. In fact, it’s almost as effective as DEET insect repellent, according to the results of a 2014 experiment by researchers at New Mexico State University.

Researchers took 10 products that are commercially available and tested their ability to repel two different species of mosquitoes: the yellow fever mosquito (Aedes aegypti) and the Asian tiger mosquito (Aedes albopictus), both of which are known to transmit diseases like dengue fever, chikungunya, and yellow fever. In doing so, volunteers subjected their own flesh to the test by placing their hands on either side of a Y-shaped tube containing the blood-sucking critters. One hand was covered in a synthetic rubber glove, while the other hand was sprayed with one of the products but otherwise left bare. Researchers recorded which tunnel the mosquitoes flew to, and how long they avoided the other end.

Three of the products contained DEET, while four products didn’t. In addition, there were two fragrances (including Bombshell) and one vitamin B1 skin patch. The DEET products were the most effective, but Bombshell proved to be nearly as good, keeping mosquitoes at bay for roughly two hours.

“There was some previous literature that said fruity, floral scents attracted mosquitoes, and to not wear those,” Stacy Rodriquez, one of the study’s authors, said in a statement. “It was interesting to see that the mosquitoes weren’t actually attracted to the person that was wearing the Victoria’s Secret perfume—they were repelled by it.”

This isn’t the first time a perfume has had an unintended effect on the natural world. It turns out that tigers are obsessed with Calvin Klein’s Obsession for Men cologne, partly because it contains a synthetic version of civetone, a pheromone that's secreted by glands located near a civet’s anus. This substance was once used to create musky fragrances, but nowadays the scent is mostly reproduced in a lab. Still, the fake stuff must be pretty convincing, because big cats go crazy when they catch a whiff of it.

[h/t Quartz]

Mystery Solved: Scientists Have Figured Out Why Some Squirrels Are Black

Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images
Rena-Marie/iStock via Getty Images

It can be something of a surprise to see an animal sporting a fresh coat of paint. Blue lobsters occasionally surface after being caught in traps. A pink dolphin was spotted in Louisiana in 2007 (and several times since). In the Chinese province of Shaanxi, a cute brown and white panda greets zoo visitors.

Another anomalous animal has joined their ranks. Black squirrels have been spotted in both the United States and the UK, and now scientists believe they know why.

Like many animals with unusual color schemes, black squirrels are the result of a genetic detour. Researchers at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge University, and the Virginia Museum of Natural History collaborated on a project that tested squirrel DNA. Their findings, which were published in BMC Evolutionary Biology, demonstrated that the black squirrel is the product of interspecies breeding between the common gray squirrel and the fox squirrel. The black squirrel is actually a gray squirrel with a faulty pigment gene carried over from the fox squirrel that turns their fur a darker shade. (Some fox squirrels, which are usually reddish-brown, are also black.)

A black squirrel is pictured
sanches12/iStock via Getty Images

Scientists theorize a black fox squirrel may have joined in on a mating chase involving gray squirrels and got busy with a female. The black fur may offer benefits in colder regions, with squirrels able to absorb and retain more heat, giving them a slight evolutionary edge.

In North America, black squirrels are uncommon, with one estimate putting them at a rate of one in every 10,000 squirrels. In 1961, students at Kent State University in Ohio released 10 black squirrels that had been captured by Canadian wildlife authorities. The squirrels now populate the campus and have become the school’s unofficial mascot. Their coloring might help them hide from predators, which might come in handy at Kent State: The campus is also home to hawks.

[h/t The Guardian]

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