9 Oct 2019

Meet Dr Gladys West

Gladys Mae West is an American mathematician. She is often called the “Hidden Figure” behind the GPS used in maps and navigation today.

She won a full-ride scholarship to Virginia State University and majored in maths. Following graduation, she taught Maths and Science before doing a Masters in maths. After more teaching, she was hired by the US Naval Weapons Laboratory. Here, she worked as a Programmer and Project Manager. She analysed satellite data using data processing systems.

Following her participation in an award-winning study, she put together mathematical models of the shape of the Earth. She project-managed the first-ever satellite that could remotely sense ocean positions. She continued her work in modelling and her calculations became more precise. Her algorithms utilised loads of data to account for variations in different forces that distort the Earth’s shape. The data that West used became the basis for GPS. Today, GPS is used in astronomy, navigation, sport, robotics, emergency services, clock synchronisation and self-driving cars.

Dr Gladys West is inducted into the Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame during a ceremony in her honour at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., on December 6, 2018. West was among the so-called “Hidden Figures” part of the team who did computing for the U.S. military in the era before electronic systems. The Air Force Space and Missile Pioneers Hall of Fame is one of Air Force’s Space Commands Highest Honors. 

Meet Dr Gladys West - Gladys West 2 | Stemettes Zine
A Mighty Girl

Following 42 years of working at Dahlgren, West retired in 1998. Following this, she undertook a PhD at Virginia Tech in Public Administration. Her achievements weren’t recognised until she submitted a short biography for an alumni function at her undergraduate sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. She was inducted into the United States Air Force Hall of Fame in 2018 as a result of her work and its longstanding applications. 

If you want to read more about Gladys West, check out: The ‘hidden figure’ of GPS and The Black Female Engineer Who Played a ‘Pivotal’ Role in Developing the GPS.

Written by Stemette, Aoife.

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