The name Gladys West may not be familiar, but she participated in the creation of something you may use frequently: GPS. You wouldn’t think that a child who grew up in a tenant farmer would eventually become an influential mathematician, but maybe watching her father work hard for very little money and her mother work for a tobacco company made her realize that she wanted More. Earlier, she thought education was the way out. She came all the way to the Naval Surface Warfare Center.
When she was there, she used-no kidding-mathematics changed the world. Although she did not single-handedly invented satellite navigation, her work is critical to the system we take for granted today.
West is passionate about satellite altimeters. We think that the satellite is at a certain height from the surface of the earth, but this is not accurate. The surface of the earth is not a smooth ball. Crossing hills or valleys means that the exact distance from the surface to the satellite is almost constantly changing. Overwater is another problem. All of these are important if you want to be precise. If you want to build a global positioning system, you need precision.
West simulated the exact shape of the earth based on data from the GEOS satellite. She later became the project manager of SEASAT, which uses radar to measure the surface of the ocean.Her interest led her to use the IBM 7030 computer to improve the earth model, called GeoidThis will consider factors such as tidal force and gravity to calculate the true shape of the earth, rather than simply assuming that it is a perfect sphere. Accurate geoid is an important part of today’s GPS and similar navigation systems.
Her family did not have money to send West to school, so she worked hard to get a full scholarship. The top two high school students graduated successfully, through discipline and wisdom, and graduated in 1948.
She was excellent in all subjects, but was selected as a mathematics major. After a short tenure, she went back to study for a master’s degree. However, even with an advanced degree, the teaching is not very good. Although she was upset about moving to Virginia in the 1960s, her job in the Navy provided her with a higher salary, which she held until her retirement 40 years later.
West has won multiple awards during his work.In addition, she is Inducted into the Air Force Hall of Fame In 2018. The Navy even produced a short video, which you can see below.
Of course, many people Working on GPS — Originally called NAVSTAR. It is not even the first of its kind. This honor may be attributed to the Transit project in 1960. But all these systems require accurate mathematical models of the earth, and West is a key part of the team that achieves this goal. Making accurate clocks, keeping them in sync, and shrinking them at low cost. All components have their own stories and heroes, but for math, we want to thank Gladys West.
We like to understand the stories behind the technologies we use every day. We think Gladys West is more inspiring because of her humble background, and she must carry her clear determination and wisdom to where she is today. Gladys received a PhD after retiring, but we know that she still prefers to use paper maps.
Want to learn more about GPS? We can help. Just want to use it? We have come a long way from a $3,000 handheld GPS device.