University of Rochester

Chemist Honored for Encouraging Women in Science

September 11, 2007

Esther M. Conwell, research professor of chemistry and physics at the University of Rochester, has received the 2008 American Chemical Society Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences.

The society recognized Conwell for her "consummate career accomplishments in an era when women in science faced extraordinary hurdles and challenges, and her unwavering dedication to and advocacy on behalf of women in chemistry and chemical engineering."

"Esther is one of the preeminent female scientists of her generation," says Robert K. Boeckman, Jr., chair of the Department of Chemistry at Rochester. "She has served as a mentor to countless female scientists and engineers over the years, and has worked tirelessly for the cause of equality for women in science and engineering. After a superlative career that now spans nearly half a century, she is still actively serving as an ideal and role model to young female scientists and engineers."

Conwell has worked very successfully with undergraduates at Rochester, serving as their research mentor under the auspices of a National Science Foundation Research Experiences for Undergraduates program. These efforts were acknowledged by her receipt of a Dreyfus Senior Faculty Mentor Award in 2004.

Conwell's research, exploring how electric fields affect the movement of electrons in semiconductors, earned her an uncommon dual membership in the National Academy of Sciences and the National Academy of Engineering, two of the highest honors a scientist or engineer can receive. Conwell is the only member of the University to hold this distinction.

She was the winner of the Thomas A. Edison medal of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) in 1997—the first woman to receive a major IEEE award. Among many other awards that she has received during her distinguished career are the Achievement Award of the Society of Women Engineers and an honorary doctorate from Brooklyn College. She has authored or co-authored several books, more than 270 technical publications, and several patents. In 2002, Discover Magazine named Conwell one of the "50 Most Important Women of Science" and most recently, the University honored her with a Susan B. Anthony Lifetime Achievement Award for her efforts in advocating and promoting women in science.

"Esther Conwell is a truly legendary figure in science," said William Jones, previous chair of the Department of Chemistry. "Her lifelong fascination with materials that shape the future has inspired our chemists and other scientists worldwide."

Nick Bigelow, chair of the Department of Physics, adds, "Esther Conwell's achievements in science are truly extraordinary when you consider that she contributed major scientific breakthroughs during an era when women in science were virtually unknown. She made major contributions as far back as World War II, and she's still working tirelessly in both her scientific research and in promoting the cause of women in science and engineering."

Conwell earned her master's degree in physics at Rochester and her doctorate at the University of Chicago. From 1946 to 1951, she taught at Brooklyn College, her undergraduate alma mater. She also spent a year as a visiting professor at the University of Paris in 1962, and a semester at MIT in 1972 as the Abby Rockefeller Mauze Professor.

This award consists of $5,000 and a grant of $10,000 to strengthen the University of Rochester's activities in encouraging women into the chemical sciences.