ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences | February 4, 2008 Issue - Vol. 86 Issue 5 | Chemical & Engineering News
Volume 86 Issue 5 | p. 32 | Awards
Issue Date: February 4, 2008

ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences

Recipients are honored for contributions of major significance to chemistry
Department: ACS News | Collection: Women in Chemistry

Sponsored by the Camille & Henry Dreyfus Foundation Inc.

Credit: Ben Wilson/Rochester Museum & Science Center
Credit: Ben Wilson/Rochester Museum & Science Center

When Esther M. Conwell, Research Professor of Chemistry & Physics at the University of Rochester, started out in science in the late 1930s, women were not exactly taken seriously. Yet throughout her career, she proved that a woman can indeed become "a scientific giant," notes her longtime colleague Ray H. Baughman, professor of chemistry and director of the NanoTech Institute at the University of Texas, Dallas. At the same time, she blazed a path for future generations of female scientists.

"Her consummate career accomplishments in an era when women in science faced extraordinary hurdles and challenges are virtually unmatched," says Robert K. Boeckman Jr., the Marshall D. Gates Jr. Professor of Chemistry and chairman of the University of Rochester's chemistry department. And more than a half-century after setting out to study science, "she is still actively serving as an ideal and role model to young female scientists and engineers," he notes.

After receiving a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1942, an M.S. from the University of Rochester in 1945, and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Chicago in 1948, Conwell embarked on a career in industry. For over four decades, she worked on semiconductors and optics, first at GTE Laboratories, then at Xerox. Then she joined the academic world through an adjunct position at the University of Rochester, where she became a full faculty member after retiring from industry in 1998.

Her accomplishments during her lengthy career are vast. In the past 50 years, she has racked up over 250 publications and several patents. Her book, "High Field Transport in Semiconductors," is considered a core text in the field.

Conwell's research helped elucidate the chemical properties of semiconductor materials such as germanium and silicon, enabling better designed transistors. Those studies ultimately laid the groundwork for "the computer revolution," Boeckman says. She also made significant contributions to the field of integrated optics, in which she studied the interaction between light and inorganic and organic semiconductor materials.

In the midst of carrying out some serious science, Conwell still had time to become a "powerful crusader in the cause of expanding opportunities for women," Baughman says. He points to her role in founding the American Physical Society Committee on Women in Physics in 1971, a committee she later chaired, and in establishing the Roster for Women in Physics, a move that helped industry and academia identify outstanding female scientists. In the 1990s, Conwell helped establish the Committee on Women in Science in Engineering, which tracked data and sought to stimulate more women to participate in the field. She also contributed to books on promoting women in both industry and academia.

Conwell has received some of the highest honors for both her contributions to science and her role in promoting opportunities for women in science. Her professional accolades include membership in the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. She was given the Thomas A. Edison Medal by the Institute of Electrical & Electronics Engineers. In 2002, Discover magazine named her one of the 50 most important women in science.

The award address will be presented before the Women Chemists Committee.

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