I admit it. One of the best moments of my undergrad degree came when our small group of thesis students was bandying about topics. When I mentioned I was set on doing decompilation, there was a long, awkward silence. One of the other students, apparently speaking for the entire group, said "We wouldn't touch your research subject with a 10-foot pole."
As smugly optimistic as I was, though, my thesis on automated decompilation would never have seen the light of day without the work of Dr Cristina Cifuentes -- particularly her PhD thesis on Reverse Compilation Techniques.
Dr Cifuentes' research runs head-on into some of the most thorny theoretical problems of computer science -- problems like the Halting Problem, which define the limits of what computers can actually do. Amongst other things, she's also worked on binary translation, static analysis, and parallelization, topics that people sometimes shy away from because of their reputation for both practical and theoretical difficulty. But this work yields awesome real-life applications, like programs that find bugs for you by reading your source code, and holds out the promise of many more, like tools that can scan compiled binaries for security bugs, or general-purpose decompilers that can read in a binary originally written in C and 'decompile' it to Ruby source code instead.
I think we forget how many women were involved in pioneering work in the early days of computing (eg the ENIAC programmers) and how many are in the thick of pioneering work today. The hardcore research isn't just done by bearded guys in white lab coats -- women are pushing the boundaries and making the future of computing possible, too.
Ada Lovelace Day is an international day of blogging about women in science and technology. You can find more information at the Finding Ada website.