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Stories from the Field

Women in Chemistry: Stories from the Field

Stories from the Field preserves and celebrates the contributions of women in science. From students striving for degrees to scientists looking back on their careers, this audio library captures triumphs, challenges, and insights in short, conversational interviews.

We at CHF thank all our Stories from the Field participants for sharing their experiences with us—and with generations of scientists to come.


“I really learned to love chemistry once I was teaching it.”

Ruth Woodall, director of Tennessee Scholars at the Tennessee Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Nashville, Tennessee, talks about the rewards of teaching in the 21st century and the importance of encouraging the next generation of chemists.

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“I recall lots of shocked expressions when I showed up.”

In the mid-1980s only 10 of the 100 on-scene coordinators at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) were women. Mary Ellen Ternes was one of this formerly rare breed. She talks about the isolation once felt by women chemical engineers and how making choices based on what you love leads you to exactly where you want to be.

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“I still wake up mornings and think, ‘I’ve got a Ph.D. in chemistry. How cool is that?’”

Without mentors, says Judith Iriarte-Gross, she would have never become a chemist. She talks about the importance of encouragement, the necessity of taking science classes early on in school, and how the periodic table is like a candy store.

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“I think we’ve come a really long way.”

Sarah Widder, a research engineer at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), shares her experience as a young woman in the modern workplace.

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“I was a rare species, but I was still undaunted by the odds.”

Sharon Haynie, principal investigator at DuPont, shares the advice that helped her get savvy and make the most of her experience at MIT.

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“I was looked at as really weird.”

A chemistry set with “really nice stuff in it” sparked Anna Wilson’s lifelong interest in chemistry, but her passion made her a bit of an oddball in the eyes of her high-school peers.

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“I was told that I do not have a right to an education.”

During her childhood in India, Shobha Kothapalli was told that she didn’t need an education because her job was to get married and serve her husband. But she fought to follow a different path.

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“I was very blessed to have people who cared about me and about my career.”

Marye Anne Fox, recipient of the 2010 National Medal of Science, had her first child while working toward her Ph.D. Here, she shares thoughts about motherhood, science, and the affirming moment that brought the two together.

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“I’m proud of the fact that I was able to step back.”

After years of relentlessly pursuing her career, some simple words from her four-year-old daughter shook Dawn Hocevar to the core. From that moment she decided to re-examine the priorities in her life.

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“I’m seeing women gain power in the scientific community.”

In her role with the Chemical Security Engagement program of the U.S. Department of State, Nancy Jackson travels throughout Asia and the Middle East, and she is seeing a big change happening: women chemists are thriving. In most parts of the Middle East, she says, there are more women studying chemistry than men. She talks about the increasing role women are playing in science internationally.

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Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry

Women in Chemistry

Follow the adventures of eight leading women in chemistry and celebrate their life-changing, chance-taking, thrill-seeking love of science.