Millie Dresselhaus

The National Science Foundation @NSF has been tweeting about Impressive #WomenInSTEM for #Women’s History Month.  Here is Professor Dresselhaus’  page at the MIT Physics Department Website, citations of her work in Google Scholar, and her bio on the American Institute of Physics Website.

Thanks to librarian Sam Kome for sharing the NSF tweets!


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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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Eugenie Clark

Thanks to GGSTEM reader Carrie Weiner Campbell, who suggested marine biologist Eugenie Clark for Grandma got STEM

The New York Times reported on February 25, 2015 that Clark has passed away.

The Maryland Women’s Hall of Fame notes that she was known as the “shark lady” and was the founding director of the Mote Marine Laboratory (established in 1955 as the Cape Haze Marine Laboratory).

The Washington Post  described her as “an unabashed adventurer and prolific researcher” and said she “traveled the globe to study reef fish, sharks, and mollusks. She made 71 dives in submersibles, a practice that is still done by a relatively small number of explorers, plunging at one point to 12,000 feet.”

The photo above is in the public domain and comes from the U.S. Department of Labor with the caption American ichthyologist Eugenie Clark, at a Women’s Bureau, Region IV HerStory event held at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee.

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JoAnne Growney


From a STEM grandmother in Silver Spring, MD
Six of my seven granddaughters are school age; they all like math.
During recent visits, I have asked them to tell me about that liking.

WE like math!     by JoAnne Growney and six of her granddaughters — Carly Harrity (5th grade, age 11), Shayla Growney (5th grade, age 10), Mika Yamamoto (3rd grade, age 9), Emma Harrity (3rd grade, age 8), Serena Growney (2nd grade, age 7), Ami Yamamoto (1st grade, age 6).

Growney_1Sisters Emma (left) and Carly (right)

Emma, 3rd grade, likes multiplication. She likes finding different ways to get the same answer. Like 6 = 2*3 and 6 = 3+3 and stuff like that.  Carly, 5th grade, likes math “pretty well.” She likes using information to solve a problem. Like if you have 20 party favors and 8 friends attending the party, how many can you give to each.

Growney_2Cousins Shayla (left) and Serena (right)

Shayla, 5th grade, really likes division. She likes hard division problems involving 2 or 3 or 4 digits, problems that do not come out even. If dividing 3 into 5432, she draws a box in which she writes 5000 and performs a division, and then puts 400 into the box and performs a second division, and so on. She was proud to tell me that she is always in the advanced math class in her grade and that she always checks her answers. Still, in the evening when we chatted about math via Face-Time, she smiled with delight to tell me she had no math homework that evening.

Serena, 2nd grade, was the most daring of the bunch. She would make-up and try new problems that she didn’t even know how to do — questions like “Find a bunch of numbers that add up to 12.” Serena likes to work quickly and sometimes needs to be reminded to avoid errors by double-checking her answer. With a smile she posed for me a many-factors multiplication calculation whose last factor was 0.


Growney_3Sisters Ami (left) and Mika (right)

Ami, 1st grade, spoke quietly but seemed perhaps to like math best of all. She said that she likes thinking about math problems, thinking about how to solve them. When she thinks about them her head feels good.

When I talked with Mika, 3rd grade, she was just home from a 6-hour car-trip and excited about solving math questions from her parents involving the car’s odometer. If our starting was 698 and our number now is 769, how far did we travel? If the total distance is 378 miles, how many miles is half-way? One-third?

JGrowney-GGSTEMAbout the grandmother: JoAnne Growney is a retired math professor who blogs about math and poetry at She has this to say about her relationship with mathematics:

As a girl, I liked math and was good at it. Encouraging me to stick with the subject was the fact that my senior high mathematics teacher was a woman. On the other hand, in the background was the common notion that boys are better at math than girls. And that smart girls are not attractive. Novels like Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle had given me a dream of becoming a writer, but the practical situation was that Westminster College offered me a science scholarship. Prodded by the wisdom of my mother who had been widowed and needed career training to support a family, I prepared to be a math teacher and after graduation began to teach in a school district near Philadelphia. Lots of circumstances later (including an MA at Temple and a PhD at the University of Oklahoma) I became a professor at Pennsylvania’s Bloomsburg University. There, one day, a colleague asked, “JoAnne, how old were you when you knew you wanted to be a mathematician?” Since then, I have thought long and hard about the answer I gave: “I never wanted to be a mathematician.” I stumbled into the career. And it has been good for me.

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Seeking GGSTEM (Junior) Reporters

GGSTEM is initiating a project to connect kids to senior women in STEM fields.  The kids will contribute posts to GGSTEM as reporters.  This could be a great activity for afterschool groups or classroom assignments.

To participate, the reporters can use the following guide:

Grandma Got STEM Reporter Prep Sheet

STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

The Grandma got STEM (GGSTEM) project was started to present examples of senior women who have made contributions in those fields. Some of the posts are written by the women themselves, and others are written by people who want to celebrate their work.   The project counters the idea that grandmothers are not technically or scientifically inclined. That’s where you come in! Here’s how you can get started:

  1. Pick an area of science, engineering, technology and mathematics that interests you. There are tons to choose from!
  2. Form a team of 1-3 people interested in that same area.
  3. Use the internet to find someone you would like to interview who is not yet featured in Grandma got STEM. The woman does not need to have grandchildren, but she should be of that general age. It is a little tricky to figure out people’s general age, so maybe an adult can help you navigate that. Alternatively, you can pick a historical figure.
  4. Request an interview if the person is alive, or do some research if they are a historical figure.
  5. Prepare a list of questions to ask the person (or to research).
  6. Conduct the interview or research.
  7. Prepare your post. It should have at least one picture. The picture can come from the woman, or if it is from the internet, please make sure we have permission to post it.
  8. Email a draft of your article to Rachel Levy at Include your names and the name of any people who helped you, so we can give everyone credit.
  9. We’ll work together to edit the draft and create a final post!
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Esther Conwell

av1235_ConwellPortrait.previewThank you to David Epley, who passed along this link in remembrance of University of Rochester Professor of Chemistry Esther Cronwell.    The article states that “Conwell was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Obama in 2010. She was a pioneer in the field of semiconductor research which university officials say ultimately revolutionized modern computers.”

The picture above is a portrait of Conwell in 1960 as a Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award recipient.  Photo used with permission of  The Walter P. Reuther Library.

If any GGSTEM readers would like to add a personal remembrance, that would be super!

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Ann Baker-Smith

Thank you to Jimi Cullen, who suggested I repost his blogpost about his grandmother on GGSTEM!  Jimi’s blog focusses on his thoughts, interests, and experiences in mathematics, theoretical computer science, and with STEM ethics and diversity.

Jimi writes:

Today (October 14) is Ada Lovelace day: a day to recognise the contribution of women in STEM fields, many of whom haven’t received the recognition they deserve over the centuries up to now. It’s a good day to talk about admirable women in STEM, and whilst the day is named after one very worthy woman, it’s also a good opportunity to emphasise that there are and have been many great female scientists.

I decided that today, Ada Lovelace day and four days after the second anniversary of her death, would be a good day to blog about my grandmother, Ann Rosemary Baker-Smith (1): mathematician, businesswoman, and pioneering programmer.

Ann Baker-Smith

Ann was very modest and didn’t often talk about her career and achievements, and unfortunately not much is known for sure about her scientific pursuits. After she died two years ago after a very short illness, I asked her close remaining family members about it, but sadly the people who would have known the stories had already passed away themselves. She deserves a much better and fuller blog post than this, but I’ll try to fill in what little she told me with relevant anecdotes to make up for the lack of details.

She was born into a large working class family in North London, with no family tradition of pursuing higher education. From a young age she was intelligent and capable, and never one to shy from a gamble, so she became the first in her family to go to university, where she studied mathematics.

People sometimes ask me what drew me to mathematics, and whether anyone in my family was a mathematician. My mind always goes to my grandmother, but in fact our mathematical interests are quite different. While I’m interested in the abstract and theoretical, she was always drawn to useful, applicable mathematics. When I was about 16 and just thinking about doing a maths degree, she asked me what area of maths I was interested in. I didn’t really know, but I’d just finished reading Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh, so I said I was interested in number theory… to which her response was “really? Sequences of numbers and things? Boring!”.

So when it came time for her to pursue postgraduate study, she chose a more tangible field: she started a PhD in geometry. She later gave me a small box of wooden models of various geometric shapes which she’d kept from her PhD days. Although she had moved on from academic mathematics, she never lost her interest in it.

Her doctoral studies did not go as smoothly as she would have hoped. Her supervisor died when she was only half way through. Although the university found her a replacement supervisor, they did not get on well at all. A PhD is tough in the best of circumstances, and support systems were not as good then as they are now, so she dropped out without finishing her thesis. This was the end of her academic career, but far from the end of her contributions to science and technology.

She had no background in physics, but what is physics if not applied mathematics (2)? She took a job for a short while as a physics teacher. Her no-nonsense approach to getting things done made her a capable teacher, although she would later laugh with me that she was often learning the material as she taught it to her students!

Later, she learned a skill which stayed with her for the rest of her life: she became a programmer. Unfortunately, from this point until the early 1990s I don’t know much about her career, but I believe she worked for IBM for a while.

When I was deciding to study computer science and mathematics, she tried to warn me about the rapidly changing nature of computing (and actually encouraged me to consider physics instead!). It’s easy to think about the differences between Python 2 and Python 3, but when I consider the paradigm shifts she saw between the late 1960s and the 2010s, I can see why she wanted to warn me!

After I was born, she and her second husband (Jim Baker-Smith) started a company called Datas, which was a portmonteau of ‘data’ and ‘asbestos’. She was programming again, creating bespoke database management software for business clients. (The other half of the business was training asbestos inspectors). She was the only programmer at the company, but was successful and had a good few clients who relied on her consistent coding.

As an old-school programmer who had learned on punch-cards, she did not particularly keep up with consumer technology later in her life. As a child I was surprised that she could make part of her living writing software, but that she was less comfortable with things like email. As I got older I realised just how much technical knowledge, ability, and experience she had, but that most of it was just for a different era of computing.

She was a very glamorous family woman who loved to have fun. She was an obstacle-overcoming, stereotype-busting mathematician and programmer. Although not famous like many of the women celebrated on Ada Lovelace day, I think she is a great example to show that women from all sorts of backgrounds have been in STEM, learning, teaching, and creating, for a long time. I’m very proud to be her grandson!

  1. She had three names in her lifetime: she was born Ann Chambers, then became Ann Cullen when she married my grandfather, and in 1995 married the love of her life, and became Ann Baker-Smith.
  2. Only teasing, physicists.


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