Thank you to Jill S Tietjen, who is becoming a regular contributor to Grandma got STEM, for this post!
Pioneering rocket scientist Yvonne Brill died in March 2013 at age 88. An amazing advocate for women, Yvonne tirelessly nominated women for awards from or election to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the National Academy of Engineering, the Society of Women Engineers, and others. She was a mentor to many and a role model for all.
Yvonne Madelaine Claeys was born December 30, 1924 near Winnipeg, in the Canadian province of Manitoba. When she enrolled at the University of Manitoba, she was told that women could not enroll in engineering – the department in which she was interested. This was because a summer camp was part of the curriculum and they said they just couldn’t do special arrangements for women.
After she received her bachelor’s degree in mathematics, she accepted a job in southern California at Douglas Aircraft, where she developed an interest in the chemistry of rocket propellants. She worked in rocket propulsion systems for what became Rand Corporation and earned a master’s degree in chemistry from USC in 1951.
She invented the hydrazine hydrazine resistojet propulsion engine, also known as the electrothermal hydrazine thruster, which uses a single propellant to keep communications satellites aloft and on a steady orbit. Her invention significantly decreased the amount of propellant needed. Since 1983, it has been used on satellites for RCA, General Electric, Lockheed Martin and other companies.
Among her many awards and accomplishments, she was elected to the National Academy of Engineering, received the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers, was inducted into the New Jersey and the National Inventor’s Halls of Fame, and in 2011, received the National Medal of Technology and Innovation from President Obama and the inaugural Kate Gleason Award from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
Yvonne Brill had three children, and four grandchildren. Her daughter Naomi is a retired mechanical engineer, her son Matt works as a geologist, and her son Joe was trained as an electrical engineer and is currently a commercial real estate developer.
Here are some links to interviews of Yvonne Brill: