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Inspiring Women in STEM: BARBARA ASKINS

By Anjali Dubey

Born in Belfast, Tennessee in 1939, Barbara S. Askins is an American chemist who is best known for her invention of a method that enhances underexposed photographic negatives. This development was later used extensively by NASA and the medical industry. After first working as a teacher and raising a family, Askins went back to school and got her bachelor’s and master’s in science from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

NASA hired Barbara at NASA's Marshall Space Flight

Center, Huntsville, Alabama, in 1975 to find a better way to develop astronomical and geological pictures. Askins is best known for inventing the autoradiograph, a method for greatly enhancing the density and contrast of photographic images by exposing the silver in the emulsion of a its negative to radiation, and then creating a second image by exposing a second emulsion to the radiation from the first one.

Askins’s process was initially applied with great success in the field of astronomy as it was used on images taken through light telescopes. Subsequently, it found wide application in medical technology, for the enhancement of X-ray images. In 1978, Askins was named Inventor of the Year by the Association for the Advancement of Inventions and Innovations, making her the first woman to receive that honor.

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