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Hertha Marks Ayrton

English Engineer, Mathematician, and Inventor.

Phoebe Sarah Hertha Ayrton, née Marks (28 April 1854 – 23 August 1923) was an English engineer, mathematician and inventor.

Hertha Ayrton was born Phoebe Sarah Marks in Portsea, Hampshire, England on 28 April 1854. She attended Girton College, Cambridge where she studied mathematics, and passed the Mathematical Tripos in 1880. At that time, Cambridge gave only certificates and not degrees to women. She successfully completed an external examination and received a B.Sc. degree from the University of London in 1881.

On 6 May 1885, she married one of her teachers at the Technical College at Finsbury, William Edward Ayrton. She assisted him with experiments in physics and electricity, and began her own investigation into the characteristics of the electric arc.

In the late nineteenth century, electric arc lighting was in wide use for public lighting. The tendency of electric arcs to flicker and hiss was a major problem. In 1895, Hertha Ayrton wrote a series of articles for The Electrician, explaining that these phenomena were the result of oxygen coming into contact with the carbon rods used to create the arc. In 1899, she was the first woman ever to read her own paper before the Institution of Electrical Engineers (IEE). Shortly thereafter, she was elected the first female member of the IEE.

Ayrton was agnostic, but retained close ties to the Jewish community.


1.) Brigham Narins, ed. (2001). Notable Scientists from 1900 to the Present: A-C. Gale Group. p. 91. ISBN 978-0-7876-1752-3. "When she became a teenager, Sarah changed her name to Hertha as an expression of her independence, and, although she remained proud of her Jewish heritage, also regarded herself as an agnostic."

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