Irena Dumler

 Thank you to Alwyn Eades for this GGSTEM submission.

Irena Dumler

Irena Dumler (my wife) has been an important figure in the world of electron microscopy. She was born in Czechoslovakia, soon after she was born the family left to escape fascism. They lived briefly in Greece and then Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, and finally Chile. Irena completed high school in Chile and, in 1953, applied to attend the Universidad Técnica del Estado (The State Technical University, which has since changed its name to the University of Santiago). She applied to study industrial chemistry. She was told that this was not a career for women. She persisted and they agreed to admit her. But the director of the program said that, of course, she would not do the heavy laboratories that were part of the course. She decided otherwise and did the same full program as the men. She was the first woman in the program and the only woman in her class.

At that time, Chilean universities made it very easy to gain admission. The quality of high schools was very varied. Admitting many students gave even those students from the poorer high schools a chance to get a university education. However the result was that most students failed. The drop out was especially high at the end of the first year. Irena was one of only 12 students to graduate from an entry of about 50 students.

After graduation, Irena worked briefly in industry but then took a job in the University of Chile. She learned electron microscopy and took charge of the electron microscope in IDIEM (Instituto de Investigaciones y Ensayes de Materiales – The Institute for Research and Testing of Materials). It is perhaps worth mentioning here that electron microscopy divides into two rather separate camps: those who study things biomedical and those who study things in the realm of physics and engineering. Fairly early in the history of electron microscopy, it was not so unusual to find women operating microscopes in the biomedical area, but it was very unusual to find a woman operating one in the world of engineering – and still more unusual that a woman be in charge. She was responsible for bringing the first scanning electron microscope to Chile and was successful in opening up a whole field of applications new to Chile.

Throughout this period, Irena was taking care of her two children (by an earlier marriage).

Irena’s standing was such that she was elected Secretary/Treasurer of SLAME: the Latin American Society for Electron Microscopy. SLAME was the professional society that brought together microscopists from across all the Americas. In 1976, the biennial Congress of the Society was held in Santiago and Irena was the principal organizer. She also played a major role two years later when the next Congress was held in Mendoza, Argentina (Mendoza is closer to Chile than it is to Buenos Aires).

Sadly for Chile, Irena left Chile shortly thereafter, to join me in England. She worked at the University of Liverpool (UK) and then for fifteen years until she retired at the University of Illinois (USA). There she did extensive research for industry and was a highly regarded instructor training students in the arts of electron microscopy – many of whom have gone on to make their own successful careers in the field.

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