Judy Pipher


Pipher, National Women’s Hall of Fame Induction, 2007.

This GGSTEM post is from Judy Pipher, University of Rochester, Prof. Emerita, Dept. Of Physics and Astronomy.  She says:

Jill Tietjen, professional engineer, author and speaker, as well as President of the Board of Directors of the National Women’s Hall of Fame, suggested that I submit a bio to “Grandma got STEM”. I qualify as a grandma (8 living grandchildren ages 15-29), 2 great-grandchildren (2 and 6), and the six year old has a sibling arriving this December. I am a very proud grandma and also gg (to the 2 and 6 year olds). When I participated in a 2013 National Women’s History Month panel in Seneca Falls NY where I live, there was a photo and article in our local paper of me representing current day scientists, and Melinda Grube playing Elizabeth Cady Stanton, discussing similarities and differences in women scientists then and now. My oldest grand-daughter photographed the page, placed it on facebook with the note “That’s my Gma on the front page!” Photo below.

when Pipher met Stanton

I am STEM qualified: PhD in Astronomy, Cornell University, 1971. Since that time, I have been at the University of Rochester. I retired as full time faculty member in 2002, but continue to conduct research there. My focus since graduate days, has been infrared astronomy. In those days, we hand-built single pixel infrared sensors for rocket astronomy experiments. My thesis research concentrated on dust emission from the galactic plane, and from massive star formation regions. Once I arrived at the University of Rochester, I began an infrared group. Although I had not yet obtained funding, my Cornell advisor gifted me with a dewar (which holds liquid nitrogen and liquid helium to cool the sensors) and I began the process of working on new sensors. Infrared sensors need to be extremely cold in order to be sensitive. With time, I gained funding, faculty colleagues at the University, students, and new projects.

Pipher,  grad. student Jerry Krassner and Prof. Graeme Duthie installing a lamellar grating interferometer on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (KAO), 1977.

My first projects involved development of an infrared instrument to fly on the Kuiper Airborne Observatory (see photo above) and the first of many infrared array camera developments. In 1984 my fellow infrared astronomer faculty member (the first of several that the department hired) and I became members of the Infrared Array Camera team for what was renamed the Spitzer Space Telescope. It was 20 years before it was launched, and it is still obtaining observations today with the sensor arrays we developed with Raytheon. I concentrated on star forming region research, and we are still publishing papers on this topic with Spitzer data. In the meantime, my group has been developing new infrared sensor arrays for space application. One current interest is NEOCam – it was granted technology funding in 2011 to develop special arrays that can be passively cooled in space by absorbing the cold of space efficiently, while radiating away heat generated by the instruments. Our hope is that NEOCam will be detecting Near Earth Objects – asteroids and comets which are close to the Earth, and may impact it – in 2018. Another current interest is the development of THz arrays for commercial application. For this body of work, I received the Susan B Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award in 2002, and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 2007. Other commendations are more field-specific. The photo at the top is the official photo for the 2007 Induction.

Meanwhile I am proud to serve on committees and Boards in my community – the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry, and the Cayuga Lake Watershed Network. And as a member of the NY Space Grant Consortium, I make every effort to encourage young women to enter STEM fields. It is unfortunately not unusual to be the only woman in the room when sensor results are being reported. Astronomy itself, does somewhat better – up to 15% US astronomers are women. But this number pales in comparison with the statistics of our European and Asian colleagues. “Women hold up half the sky” – part of a proclamation by Chairman Mao! has been coopted in a 2009 book by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn, and from which a Half the Sky movement has been formulated. In the US it is time for 50% of young women to pursue STEM educations so that in 50 years, “Grandma got STEM” will be unnecessary.

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Stephanie L. Kwolek

ImageImage from the Hagley Vault Digital Archives.  Caption says “Stephanie L. Kwolek, developer of Kevlar (circa 1995).  While working with DuPont Stephanie Kwolek developed the first liquid crystal polymer which provided the basis for Kevlar brand fiber.”  The New York times reported that Stephanie L. Kwolek passed away Wed June 18, 2014 at the age of 90.   See Washington Post article here.

Thank you to GGSTEM contributor Jill Tietjen, for the updated post below.

Stephanie Kwolek

Stephanie KwolekPhoto credit: National Women’s Hall of Fame.

Stephanie Kwolek is best known for her invention of KevlarTM, the lightweight yet very strong polymer used in bulletproof vests and many other products. In fact, when she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 1995, she was escorted to the stage by a policeman whose bulletproof KevlarTM vest had saved his life. Kwolek spent 40 years with DuPont during which time she obtained 16 patents for a variety of groundbreaking materials and devised new processes in polymer chemistry.

Kwolek had shown an early interest in science. Intending to pursue a career as a doctor, she graduated with a BS in chemistry from what is now Carnegie Mellon University in 1946. She accepted a position as a chemist in the rayon department with DuPont planning to save the money she needed to attend medical school. In 1950, she moved to Wilmington, Delaware, and became so interested in the polymer research in which she was involved that she decided medical school was no longer in her future. She said “I became so interested in the work I was doing that I stayed on. It was very challenging. It differed from day to day. It was very exciting because you never knew what you might come up with. It was a constant learning process.” In addition to KevlarTM, Kwolek worked on LycraTM spandex fibers used in athletic clothing and Nomex, which is fire resistant and used by firefighters.

Kwolek promoted science education for children – and scientific careers for women. She said “It was certainly difficult at times because the opportunities were not open to women from the 1940s through probably the 1970s. Things finally got better in the 1980s for women but the opportunities for advancement were limited.”

Stephanie Kwolek received many honors. In 1996, she received the National Medal of Technology “for her contributions to the discovery, development and liquid crystal processing of high-performance aramid fibers, which provide new products worldwide to save lives and benefit humankind.” In 1999, she received Lemelson-M.I.T. Lifetime Achievement Award. Kwolek has been inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. In 2014, she was inducted into the Hall of Fame of Delaware Women.




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Dolores Shockley


Thanks to  The 9-9…& the 2000 @KpSaysDoBetter, a former student of Dr. Dolores Shockley, who recommended her for #GGSTEM and says she is “all types of awesome.”

Here’s some information about her career on the site for distinguished alumni of Purdue university.  According to the site, Shockley is “the first African American woman to receive a PhD in Pharmacology in the United States.”

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Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin

Thanks to Deb Hirsch who pointed out this twitter post by Marcus Chown (@marcuschown) about Cecilia Payne-Gaposchkin.



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Sandra Kizior

Thanks to Sandy Kizior, who shared several photographs from her working life.  I smile every time I read this comment she left on the blog:

Rachel I love you. Finally a “place” online I can feel like one of the crowd (of techie grandmas that is). Retired since 2007. Miss my work. I’m looking for pictures etc to share.

Sandy came through with the photos and here they are!

This is a picture of me with Dr. Michael Roche  in our lab at Argonne National Lab.  We worked in the Chemical Engineering Division. This is some of the equipment used to study electrochemical systems.   I believe Mike passed away a few years ago.

kizior_4_hp_scanDS_1454225216This picture was taken circa 1975.

I do not have current photo capability. The photos were scanned using 2003 Apple/HP technology.

My colleagues took me to a Polish restaurant in Chicago (I am Polish) for a farewell luncheon. Mike left the gift in the trunk of his car which was parked in Bldg 205 parking lot. After returning from the luncheon, the whole group gathered in the Argonne parking lot for the gift opening.

The photos are unique to say the least.  Here I am with Mike opening the card…


Next photo has the gift…

kizior 2_hp_scanDS_14542315154

My colleagues at Argonne gave me a briefcase filled with $100 in singles, labeled the Polish National Bank of Argonne. I couldn’t stop laughing.


The position at Argonne was my best job with the lowest compensation. I did real research, published several papers in the Journal of the Electrochemical Society (using 3 different names) and got one patent.

I just need to share one more little tidbit.

The first time I presented my work was at a symposium at Argonne. I don’t remember the year. It was probably around 1977. The talk was scheduled very last, after supper on the final day. Much to my dismay it seemed like everyone stayed to hear my talk. There were about 250 people in the audience, with only one other technical woman. I was able to defend my work without help from “the boss”, and I even threw in a couple of jokes to start. Needless to say, it was the hit of the conference.

After the reorganization at Argonne in the 80’s, I moved to Hughes Electrodynamics in California and worked on space batteries for a few years. Then, I went to Lockheed Martin to work on electrochromics and coatings technology until I retired.

I could not publish when I worked for the defense companies, but I was able to get one or 2 patents.

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Nagambal “Swarna” Shah


Thank you to Prof. Natasha Brewley, who shared the photo above and post below on the occasion of Dr. Nagambal “Swarna” Shah’s Retirement Party May 3, 2014.

Dr. Swarna Shah has been a source of inspiration and support for many Spelman students who are products of its Mathematics Department. Today she had her retirement party to celebrate 40 years of teaching at Spelman College. Through her guidance, she has helped to turn out many young black women undergraduates in mathematics, with interests in Statistics, who have gone on to earn PhD’s. We love you Dr. Shah and wish you wellness and continued happiness in this next phase of your life’s journey!

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Evelyn Boyd Granville


Today is the 90th birthday of Evelyn Boyd Granville, who was the second African American woman to earn a PhD in Mathematics.  To celebrate the occasion, Evelyn Lamb gave her a call and created this post about Granville for her Scientific American blog, Roots of Unity.  Thanks to Evelyn, who blogged about GGSTEM on her own grandmother’s birthday, for the heads up!

The photo above is of Evelyn Boyd Granville in 1997. Photo by Margaret Murray, via Mathematicians of the African Diaspora by Scott W. Williams.

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