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Women in Robotics: Challenges and Progress

Julie Adams, Electrical engineering and computer science professor at Vanderbilt University

Electrical engineering and computer science professor Julie Adams along with students Sean Hayes, right, Mark Bailey, left, Electa Baker and Caroline Harriott, center, work with their remote control robots outside the Student Life Center. (John Russell/Vanderbilt University)

Robotics is one of the fastest growing fields in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) and women have benefited from that growth. Over the past three decades, women in robotics have faced challenges, but at the same time, have seen encouraging progress.

“Around the time I entered graduate school in the early 90s, the number of females going into PhD programs in robotics showed a big step up, and I was part of that,” said Julie Adams, associate professor of computer science and computer engineering at Vanderbilt University.

At that time, Adams was one of only three women of the 30 to 35 students in the general robotics, automation, sensing & perception (GRASP) laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania, and one of the first to graduate with a PhD. Continue reading

GMU professor’s “Nanoparticle Net” may detect early cancer, Lyme disease

Women in Science and EngineeringAlessandra Luchini, a Ph.D. and assistant professor at George Mason University, has helped to invent a “nanoparticle trap” which allows scientists to detect unhealthy cells much sooner than before. When found early, cancer and other diseases are easier to treat, giving patients a better chance for survival.

Recently, Luchini gave a lecture on “Nanotechnology in Biomedicine” as part of Mason’s Vision Series at the Hylton Performing Arts Center in Manassas, Virginia. Continue reading

Women in Science and Engineering: Environmental Problem Solver Leslie Guth

Women in Science and EngineeringIn this fourth and final post celebrating Women’s History Month, I will highlight another AT&T scientist who I was privileged to cover early in my career as a writer. Though I worked in Media Relations at AT&T Bell Laboratories from 1987 to 1990, I did not meet Leslie Guth until after I had left the Labs to begin freelancing.

Then, in 1991, I interviewed her for an article in Woman Engineer magazine. Guth had arrived at the Bell Labs Engineering Research Center in 1984, fresh from earning her Ph.D. in Materials Science and Engineering Continue reading

Women in Science and Engineering: Fiber Optics Expert Suzanne R. Nagel

Women in Science and EngineeringIn honor of Women’s History Month, this is the third in a series of posts on some of the accomplished women scientists and engineers I have had the privilege of interacting with throughout my career. Back in 1986, I interviewed almost a dozen women working in fields related to lasers for an article in Lasers & Applications magazine.

Today I focus on another of these women, Suzanne R. Nagel, an engineer at AT&T Bell Laboratories in the area of fiber optics.

Suzanne R. Nagel, Ph.D.

Suzanne R. Nagel, Ph.D.

Without her, you wouldn’t be reading this online. No, she didn’t invent the internet. But she helped make it possible to create the first transoceanic fiber optic cable, leading to today’s high-speed data transmission that makes our world-wide internet service possible. Continue reading

Women in Science and Engineering: Flex Fuel Pioneer Roberta J. Nichols

Women in Science and EngineeringIn honor of Women’s History Month, this will be the first in a series of posts on women in science and engineering. As a woman engineer myself, and later as a technical editor and writer, I’ve had the privilege of meeting and interviewing a number of remarkable women in science and engineering whose achievements equal those of their political, artistic and pedagogical counterparts.

Today I’d like to highlight the first woman engineer I ever covered—in an article I wrote for The Orbiter, employee newsletter of The Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, Calif.

Woman Engineer Dr. Roberta J. Nichols advanced methanol as the best alternative fuel for cars.

Woman Engineer Dr. Roberta J. Nichols Credit: The Aerospace Corp.

The year was 1985, and Dr. Roberta J. Nichols, a former employee and Aerospace Woman of the Year, had been invited back to speak during the company’s annual Women’s Week celebration.

Working with her Dad

Nichols’ story may sound typical of many women engineers of that era. According to the LA Times, she was born in 1931 and grew up following her father around to junkyards and learning to weld as they fixed up old cars together. Later, her hobbies included dragboat, hydroplane and vintage car racing. Happily, she was able to carry over these passions into her professional life. Continue reading