APS News

Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics

In commemoration of the APS Centennial, Nina Byers, working with the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics, has established an on-line archive featuring the many contributions of 20th Century women to physics. It has been funded by the APS, UCLA, NIST, a private philanthropist and a grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The site currently contains approximately 50 citations, many of which are hyperlinked into other databases, including Encyclopedia Brittanica Online, which has incorporated archive pages for more than a dozen famous physicists, including Marie Curie, Irene Joliet Curie, Lise Meitner, Chien-Shiung Wu, Jocelyn Bell Burnell, Dorothy Hodgkin, Kathleen Lonsdale, and Maria Goeppert Mayer. The site has proven popular: between October 29, 1997 and November 6, 1997, close to 1000 visitors logged into the archive from all over the world, and the number continues to rise steadily, according to Byers (University of California, Los Angeles). The content and direction of the archive is administered by an archive steering committee.

Along with the citations, the archive staff has also compiled a collection of primary materials unavailable to most researchers, providing insight into the lives and careers of selected women physicists, as well as key data unavailable in conventional reference books. Also in development are a series of historical essays, the first set focusing on the gender discrimination encountered by women in Germany between 1890 and 1940. Subsequent essays will seek to place such issues into proper historical context, detailing German industrialization, the rise of Nazism, and the development of nuclear physics, among other events.

In terms of eventual disposition, Byers reports that the UCLA Library has indicated interest in acquiring the archive in both digital form and as archival documents as part of its permanent collection, ensuring continued access to the information via the World Wide Web. Thus, a visitor to the archive will have access not only to the information stored therein, but to related materials in the entire University of California library system. "It is advantageous because the UCLA library staff is first rate, their standards are very high, and because their participation in our work toward completion will greatly improve the quality of the archive," said Byers. Already under discussion are plans to design and construct an object-oriented database for the organization of the archive, greatly improving its search and retrieval capabilities.

APS encourages the redistribution of the materials included in this newspaper provided that attribution to the source is noted and the materials are not truncated or changed.

Editor: Barrett H. Ripin