The Incredible Gen Y Women Who Are Innovating The Future

Natalie is a robotic operator and aerospace engineerThe NextWomen Family Business & Generations Theme.

Aerospace engineer Natalie Panek looks at some of the amazing Gen Y women who are shaping the future with their innovations.

Innovation is found in those who let curiosity lead – letting the world stimulate the imagination to orchestrate change. And those whom are driven by curiosity are the fearless leaders looking to instigate change and have the ability to transform the way we envision technology or how technology can re-shape our lives.These visionaries are pushing boundaries on massive projects that require immense resources, but also understand that there is high pay off and opportunities to ensure that industries driven by technology continue to grow.

Innovative companies will dream of the impossible and find the resources to make those dreams possible.

Doing the impossible inspires, which ultimately triggers further innovation. Companies pushing frontiers like Tesla or Virgin Galactic recognize the importance of the progression of technology, using the lessons learned from past and present generations to propel growth at a fascinating rate. Tesla is really pushing the boundaries of energy technology with its electric cars. Their Model S electric car for example, has been called by Consumer Report as ‘the best car it has ever tested.’

That is quite a feat for any vehicle, especially one that is powered via a motor, and which stores electricity in its Lithium Ion battery cells. There is no internal combustion engine and therefore no tailpipe to spew emissions. Not only is Tesla re-inventing the electric car, but also how electric cars are operated with the development of a Supercharger network for driving long distance and cross-country trips. The car is equipped with numerous other state-of-the-art features, which are fully profiled on their site.

It comes as no surprise then that the founder of Tesla, Elon Musk, also started Space Exploration Technologies, now commonly known as SpaceX. With a female President and COO at the reigns of day-to-day operations, Gwynne Shotwell, Elon Musk, and Richard Branson via Virgin Galactic, are separately evolving and rejuvenating the space industry through commercialization and more efficient access to space. The era of government-funded space projects is long over.

Increasing access to space for the everyday person is the next wave and progression of space exploration. 

These are the visionaries who will change the face of space and many other industries.

Ultimately evolving technology and exploration is all about risk, and through exploration we can aggressively push to find out ‘why’ and ‘how’ things work, constantly testing new ideas to spur a revolution. This requires acknowledgment that the greatest error is not to have tried and failed; but that in trying, we did not give it our best. 

Recognizing that we as a society, as women in technology, are ultimately responsible for our contributions to innovation and that these contributions can help advance complex projects to be sustainable on Earth in an era of extreme change.

A sense of ‘community’ is also a powerful concept in terms of propelling innovation. Where the next generation of fearless leaders will have a vision for a movement and will need to build a community of supporters to transform ideas into reality. Fortunately women are very good at building communities and support systems. This will be indicative of a very powerful shift in technology over the next few decades because those who can build networks and provide access to mentors, whom will nurture ideas, will be very successful.

This goes hand in hand with tapping into a very powerful group of youth who want to define the future of technology in order to harness innovation.

Essentially a dynamic group of Gen Y just waiting to change the world and push boundaries. And Gen Y will require skills, like focus and discipline, to overcome any hardships that might be endured while developing advanced technology and complex projects.

Speaking as a woman of Gen Y, we will engage our community to be our ultimate champions as we endure hardship and struggle en route to ultimate goals. We will dive head-on into challenge without wavering at the first sign of risk, but be wise enough to surround ourselves with the resources that can support risky endeavors.

There is already an impressive array of Gen Y women who are revolutionizing technology and making their mark with outside-of-the-box inventions. Take for example Meredith Perry, whose start-up company Ubeam is working to re-charge gadgets remotely using ultrasound transmitters. Her goal is to ‘charge a room full of devices without ever touching them’. Already listed as one of Forbes’ Top 30 Under 30 and with the backing of some very prominent investors, Perry is sure to leave her mark on this generation and the next.

Or take for example Danielle Fong, who graduated from University at 17 and is now the Chief Scientist at LightSail Energy, Inc. Here she is working on a technology called Regenerative Air Energy Storage (RAES, a method of regenerating the useful energy from the heat produced when air is compressed, with the goal of improving energy efficiency in buildings) and has been named by the MIT Technology Review as one of the top 35 innovators under 35 in 2012.

Then moving into the tech sector, as a member of the IBM Silicon Photonics Team, Jessie Rosenberg is using optics and optical technologies to create faster and more efficient computer chips. She is an exceptionally gifted physicist who demonstrates that there are amazing opportunities and experiences for women in science, engineering, technology, and math.

These remarkable women prove that it is time to stop resting on the shoulders of giants, put legacies aside, and blaze a new trail even though unexpectedly we may find ourselves in a role where our performance has ultimate consequences. We must and will answer to that when the time comes.

To be innovative is to never become complacent. Using teamwork, competence, enthusiasm, and responsibility to prove we have the power to revolutionize and transform the world.

Natalie Panek is a robotic operator and aerospace engineer at MDA Space Missions, previously interning at NASA Goddard Spaceflight Center and NASA Ames Research Center. She’s driven a solar-powered car across North America, has a pilot’s license, and skydived with Korea’s first Astronaut. With degrees in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, Natalie has co-authored papers on Microgravity Combustion and On-orbit Satellite Servicing. She is an advocate for women in STEM, encouraging women to dive head-on into challenging careers. She has spoken at TEDx and on multiple panels for women in tech on the topics of advancement, leadership, and space exploration. Natalie can be found on Twitter @nmpanek and her blog:

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