Women in STEM: Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen

Last Updated: July 28, 2020 1:54 pm
Women in STEM: Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen

Women in STEM: Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen

Dr. Mary Lou Jepsen is known as a technologist — a student, professor, engineer, and entrepreneur, whose latest venture used something as simple as a red laser pointer to build a $100 million startup called Openwater. As you can imagine, there’s so much more to Mary Lou that makes her perfect to be featured this July as part of Tynker’s Women in STEM series.

Openwater is an imaging-tech company focusing on holographic body scanning technology. Mary Lou demonstrated how a low-cost red laser pointer could detect a tumor underneath the flesh of a chicken. That meant she could produce hi-resolution images that were much more affordable than X-ray and MRI machines and without the radiation and radio waves. In humans, this detailed look into our brains and bodies can help doctors diagnose and subsequently treat disease.

Mary Lou was born in Connecticut with a thirst for knowledge. She got her undergraduate degree from Brown, studying art and engineering. Her research in Computational Holography earned her a Master’s of Science at the MIT Media Lab. And she got her PhD back at Brown in Optical Sciences.  

Mary Lou invents novel hardware and software systems. With 200+ patents to her name, she’s worked at Philips, contributing to breakthroughs in LED efficiency. She co-founded Micro-Display Corp, where she made significant advancements in virtual and augmented reality. And she continued her work in advanced electronics and virtual reality at Google and Facebook/Oculus.

Mary also gives back. As co-founder and first chief technology officer of One Laptop per Child, Mary Lou helped the company focus on making the lowest-priced power-laptop possible. Their goal was to transform education by enabling kids in low-income countries to have access to content, media, and computer programming environments.

As a spin-off of One Laptop per Child, she founded Pixel Qi to commercialize some of the technologies she developed in the low-cost laptops, focusing on the screen as the most important component of any mobile device. Consequently, the company set out to reduce screen power consumption so that the devices wouldn’t have to be constantly recharged.

Not just Moonshots – Moon Landings. That’s the motto you’ll find on Mary Lou’s website. Clearly, she doesn’t just dream of making innovations in technology, she accomplishes them. That’s why Time Magazine named Mary Lou to their annual Time 100 list, recognizing her as one of the 100 most influential people in the world.

At Tynker, we can’t wait to see what Mary Lou does next. In the meantime, here’s a quote that she was kind enough to give us for all the young coders out there: “There are two types of people in the world: those that build sandcastles and those that smush them, be the former not the latter.” We couldn’t agree more!


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