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Two Black Women Who Shaped Digital Technology

Trailblazing engineer Marian Croak and ophthalmologist Patricia Bath are making history again as they become the first Black women inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Both women join the ranks of inventors Thomas Edison, Alexander Graham Bell and the Wright brothers — individuals responsible for forging change in the way people live — as part of the 2022 class of inductees.

Croak, current president of engineering at Google, helped lead the charge in advancing digital telecommunications, Voice Over Internet Protocols (VoIP), the very technology utilized in remote work, digital conferencing and SMS messaging. Croak holds over 200 patents, with at least 125 pertaining to VoIP technology.

The Princeton and University of Southern California graduate began her career in 1982 with AT&T — at the time called Bell Labs — researching ways in which technology could improve people’s livelihood. By the early 1990s, the internet had begun to move mainstream, becoming more accessible to the public, a movement that sparked Croak’s vision for the future.

“I felt like IP and the Internet was going to explode and that we needed to move towards the internet in order to be competitive. We’ve been able to transform a network,” Croak said in an AT&T employee communications video.

In 2013, she was inducted into the Women in Technology Hall of Fame. The following year, she joined Google and was named the 2014 Black Engineer of the Year award and FierceWireless Most Influential Women in Wireless.

Bath, who will be inducted posthumously, spearheaded the development of the laserphaco probe device and technique for removing cataracts in 1986. Her lists of first include:

  • The first Black woman to complete a residency in ophthalmology at New York University;

  • The first woman faculty of ophthalmology at the University of California at Los Angeles;

  • The first woman to chair an ophthalmology residency program in the United States at Drew-UCLA.

The laser pioneer obtained degrees from Hunter College and the prestigious Howard University, a Historically Black College and University. Bath is also recognized as the first Black female doctor to secure a medical patent for the laserphaco probe. Bath passed in 2019 and has been nominated 11 times for induction into the Inventors Hall of Fame.

“My mother’s invention is as significant to the laser cataract surgery industry as Bell’s telephone is to the telecommunications industry and Edison’s light bulb is to the electric lighting industry,” her daughter Dr. Eraka Bath, associate professor, Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at UCLA, stated in February of this year. “Being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame would be an amazing honor.”

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