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People-First Technologies

On September 16, 1921, physicist and metallurgist Ursula Franklin was born in Munich, Germany. Franklin’s view of her world formed as she grew from a young woman who suffered wartime workcamp imprisonment, through a doctorate in experimental physics, to emigration to a renewed life in Canada. Having suffered through effects of war, she determined to use her life and skills to promote peace.

woman stands in front of a book cover

As a research scientist in a discipline that held many rewards for industrial and military applications, Franklin pioneered a people- or culture-centred science within it. She envisioned new ways of seeing a broader range of materials, the stuff of prehistoric life, former civilizations, and ancient artifacts. Franklin applied the techniques of modern materials analysis to helping date archaeology finds in metals and ceramics, archaeometry.

When the U.S. government tested nuclear weapons in the atmosphere, Franklin used her expertise to assist investigations into the levels of strontium 90 – a radioactive substance in the fallout. With discarded children’s teeth, she applied her materials analysis techniques to prove that this radioactivity had already made its way into the bodies of young children. These data helped influence U.S. government policy to stop above-ground nuclear weapons testing.

In University of Toronto’s Department of Metallurgy and Materials Science, Franklin added her own vital brand to her field of study to conserving resources and protecting Nature. She published The Real World of Technology, a bestselling examination of the impact of technology on our lives. Franklin used her skills and insights to promote the responsible and culture enhancing use of Science and Technology for the good of human society. Through her publications and personal example, she encouraged others to apply their unique interdisciplinary experiences to create innovation in Science and Technology to benefit all.

Franklin was a Companion of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, and the recipient of the Pearson Medal of Peace. In addition to honorary degrees and other recognition around the world, the Toronto Board of Education created the Ursula Franklin Academy to integrate its curricula with innovative technologies.

B Bondar / Real World Content Advantage