By Kacey Fitzpatrick
The work our researchers do here at EPA is so inspiring! So in honor of Women’s History Month, I asked a few of them about who inspires them. Here’s what they said.
Some are inspired by well-known researchers or other women you may have already heard about.
I am inspired by Melanie Klein who created a therapeutic technique known as “play therapy”. She continued to advance the theory and technique of psychoanalysis while coping with personal tragedies and depression throughout her life. And, not having an official academic degree didn’t stop her passion in conducting research.
—Cecilia Tan, Research Physical Scientist
I have been inspired by many strong, vibrant women, all of whom share a passion for their work and for making the world a better place, no matter their field. These women include Maya Angelou, Rosalind Franklin, Jane Goodall, Sandra Day O’Connor, Frances Oldham Kelsey, Toni Morrison, and many, many more.
—Toby Schonfeld, Human Subjects Research Review Official
Mary Walton. Mary was a pioneer in reducing air pollution during the Industrial Revolution. In 1879, Mary patented a device that minimized the smoke that was pouring into the air. It was designed to deflect the emissions into water tanks. Later she would build a model train set to cut down on the clanging of the trolleys. On February 8, 1891, after putting her invention under the struts that supported the city trains, she received a patent for her work. She gave the city some peace of mind by selling the rights of her patent to the New York City Metropolitan railroad.
—Stephanie Warhol, Program Analyst
No one person, however, the collective efforts of tireless conservationists such as Rachel Carson, Dian Fosse, and Jane Goodall were certainly inspirational.
—Janice Dye, Research Biologist
Marie Curie. Her leadership and achievements at a time when women were not regarded in the scientific profession will always be inspirational.
–Samantha Jones, Toxicologist
I’m inspired by people who follow what they love doing even if it goes against convention. In the early 19th Century, Mary Anning was a self-taught fossil hunter. She found and excavated ichthyosaur fossils, long-necked plesiosaurs, a pterodactyl, and hundreds of other fossils that helped scientists to draw a picture of the marine world 200 million to 140 million years ago during the Jurassic.
—Felicia Barnett, Environmental Engineer
I am inspired by Susan Solomon whose work played a role in understanding the ozone hole and role of CFCs.
—Havala Pye, Research Physical Scientist
One of my favorite authors is Barbara Kingsolver, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist by training who got her start writing for science journals. Her work is inspiring to me as she tells stories filled with themes of biodiversity, ecology, and an appreciation for the natural world.
–Megan Fleming, Biologist
Maria Mitchell learned to observe the stars from her father, who taught his children to use a sextant and reflecting telescope. At 17, she had already begun her own school for girls, teaching them science and math. But Mitchell rocketed to the forefront of American astronomy in 1847 when she spotted a blurry streak—a comet—through her telescope. She was honored around the world, earning a medal from the king of Denmark, and became the first woman to be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
—Diana Bless, Chemical Engineer
Maria Mitchell, who became world famous for discovering a new comet, because she was truly a pioneer: first female U.S. astronomer, first woman elected to the American Academy of Arts & Science, and then to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, first professor at Vassar College, first internationally recognized female scientist.
—Valerie Zartarian, Environmental Engineer
There are loads of female scientists that inspire me. One that jumps to mind is Nancy Hopkins, a Professor Emeritus at MIT. Her career has spanned multiple fields and models. Dr. Hopkins applied her early experience with DNA and RNA viruses to create a strategy that, for the first time, enabled insertional mutagenesis in a vertebrate model. This forward genetic approach identified hundreds of genes that are developmentally required in zebrafish. She was also a strong mentor, launching the careers of an impressive number of trainees who have gone on to study the genetic underpinnings of development, behavior, and predisposition to cancer. I also admire Dr. Hopkins because she took risks. She changed fields many time throughout her career. She also walked out of Lawrence Summers infamous speech where he suggested that innate differences in the sexes might account for the lack of women in high-powered scientific positions. Based on her exceptional research record and history of advocating for women in science, I thought it was fitting to honor her here for Women’s History Month.
–Tamara Tal, Biologist
Some are inspired by family.
My mother. Before she retired, she was a middle school science teacher, and shared her love of all things science with me.
—Nicolle Tulve, Research Physical Scientist
I’m currently inspired by my “budding” scientists – my nieces! Their passion and excitement reminds me of why I wanted to be a scientist.
–Rachelle Duvall, Research Physical Scientist
My mother – who devoted her life to science education.
—Tina Bahadori, Exposure Scientist and National Program Director
Some are inspired by professors, teachers, or mentors they’ve had.
In undergrad at the University of Idaho, I had a female professor, Dr. Margrit von Braun, who was the chair of the committee that developed and implemented the Environmental Science Program, and also taught my hazardous waste assessment class. Not only was she a wonderful teacher, she was a great mentor and I ended up working with her for 2 year after I got my BS degree. She and her husband started a small consulting firm in Moscow, Idaho in 1984 to address environmental contamination and resulting human health problems in the Pacific Northwest. At the University of Idaho, she eventually made her way to Dean of the College of Graduate and Interdisciplinary Studies. Since her retirement in 2013, she’s been working with international communities to mitigate environmental pollution. She is truly an inspiration!
—Lindsay Stanek, Physical Scientist
Mrs. Fink, my high school chemistry teacher is one of my heroes, as she got me interested in chemistry and started down the right career path. She got a big acknowledgement in my PhD thesis too!
—Elin Ulrich, Research Chemist
While working in EPA’s Science to Achieve Results grants program for several years, I have met many female scientists who inspire me. However, my post-doctoral adviser Barbara Finlayson-Pitts remains as one of the most impressive people I’ve ever met. She is an incredibly intelligent scientist, who tackles atmospheric science questions with creativity using a wide variety of analytical techniques. She is always ready to share her knowledge or consider a problem, while emanating positive energy and enthusiasm in her love of science.
–Sherri Hunt, Physical Scientist
Dr. Linda Brubaker, a paleoecologist at the University of Washington, was my first teacher there and on my PhD committee. She was the only woman in the College of Forestry for much of the time I was there, so she definitely inspired me.
–Jana Compton, Research Ecologist
And a lot are inspired by their EPA colleagues.
I’m inspired by the people I work with on a daily basis, both female and male. There are a lot of people within EPA dedicated to doing good science in support of protecting human health and the environment.
–Susan Burden, Physical Scientist
My female colleagues at EPA inspire me every day. My seasoned colleagues helped set environmental science and policy precedents that have and will continued to protect our environment. My mid-level peers have the benefit of learning from these women and continuing their legacy.
—Larke Williams, Environmental Engineer
I am inspired everyday by the female scientists that I work with, here in Cincinnati. They are some of the brightest and hard working women I have ever met, and they make me want to be a better researcher.
—Jill Hoelle, Biological Science Lab Tech
I’ve had a number of wonderful female mentors at EPA – it’s hard to pick just one. I was lucky to start my career working for Dr. Alice Stark of the New York State Health Department, who worked in Region 5 for a brief period. Alice was the epidemiologist for the Superfund site at Love Canal and her dedication to public service, science and science communication has influenced me throughout my career.
—Carole Braverman, Regional Science Liaison
One of my peers at EPA inspires me every day – Kelly Witter, an environmental engineer, has devoted her career to educational outreach in our surrounding community. She is an amazing force for science and inspiring the next generation!
—Gayle Hagler, Environmental Engineer
And EPA engineer Robyn Conmy, who is inspired by her family and a love of the ocean, is featured in this video.
About the Author: Kacey Fitzpatrick is a student contractor and writer working with the science communication team in EPA’s Office of Research and Development.