Episode Description

Emma Unson Rotor took leave from her job as a math teacher in the Philippines to study physics at Johns Hopkins University in 1941. Her plans were disrupted when the Imperial Japanese Army invaded and occupied the Philippines. Unable to access her Philippine government scholarship to attend Johns Hopkins, she joined the Ordnance Development Division at the National Bureau of Standards. It was here that she did groundbreaking research on the proximity fuze, the “world’s first ‘smart’ weapon,” in the words of physicist Frank Belknap Baldwin, who also helped develop the technology.

Emma Unson Rotor; Credit: The Unson Family

Emma Rotor’s great niece, Ria Unson, an artist, painted a portrait of her aunt to celebrate her life.

Credit: The Unson Family


  • Ria Unson
  • Erwin Tiongson


  • Erica Huang


Erica Huang

Senior Producer

Erica is a sound designer, producer, and mix engineer for podcasts and radio. She’s contributed to shows for PRX, The Atlantic, Prologue Projects, Vox, Pushkin, Audible, LWC Studios, CNN, and TED. Erica is also the studio manager at Good Studio, where she’s recorded for Radiolab & This American Life. Ask her about analog synths and mechanical keyboards. Or don’t.


Episode Transcript

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