Klein, Lisa C.
Professor II; Graduate Director
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1976
Department of Material and Science Engineering, School of Engineering, New Brunswick; Rutgers
Areas of Interest: Sol-gel Processing of Glass Frits, Coatings and Monoliths, Silicate and Phosphate Glasses, Viscosity and Transformation Kinetics.
From Sputnik to Moon Glass
As with many American kids born in the 1950ís, the launching of the Russian satellite Sputnik was the defining event. I was in first grade in Wilmington, Delaware, when the Space Age began. I recall a visit to our elementary school by the district science coordinator, who in my six-year old mind I imagined asked me personally to accept the challenge of beating the Russians. Iím told that I promised my first grade teacher that I was going to MIT, but at this point this is urban legend, and I have no way to prove or disprove that I said anything that pretentious.
There is no doubt that the Space Program and NASA served as the background for my early school years. Any time there was a satellite launch, we wheeled the television into the classroom and watched. Along with my Barbie Doll, I had a Cape Canaveral Set. This toy consisted of several spring-loaded rockets and other plastic pieces that could be arranged to look like the launch of a Mercury Mission. A manifestation of the Space Race was the emphasis on math and science, and the introduction of new courses, all designated by acronyms that I no longer remember. When the elementary schools merged in high school, there were some new students in my classes, but by and large, the students I started with in first grade were still with me in twelfth grade. I graduated with about 400 students from a typical suburban high school in 1969, shortly before the Apollo Mission landed on the moon that July.
Another consequence of the emphasis on science in the 1960ís was the massive investment from the National Science Foundation, which sponsore
Lisa Klein outside her Beacon Hill apartment, 1973
d summer science programs. After eleventh grade, I attended a program in physics. My parents assumed that I would return to the summer camp that I had gone to for the past ten years, but I asked them if I could go to Brown University in the summer of 1968. I spent 6 weeks on a college campus studying physics with students from all over the US. I can honestly say that this experience was the point where I knew there was no turning back. When I talk to other scientists my age, I find that the majority, especially women, identify a summer science program as the key. It is unfortunate that the funding for these programs is gone. Whenever I hear the lament that not enough high school students are choosing science, I know one of the reasons. If it were not for this summer experience, which by-the-way was completely free, I would not have had the confidence to take physics in senior year of high school and apply to technology schools.
In senior year, I applied to a handful of schools. I indicated that my interest was physics and engineering. Many engineering schools at the time did not accept women, and many liberal arts schools awarded BA degrees to women and not BSís. I was informed by one admissionís officer that I could receive a BA in chemistry, but I could not take chemical engineering. Remember, this is before Yale and Princeton became co-ed. I was admitted to MIT, which has always had women. Of course, the number of women admitted to MIT at the time was equal to or less than the number of beds they had in the womenís dormitory. So, in 1969, I and 70 other women joined the nearly 1,000 men who became the class of 1973.
Lisa Klein and her sister, Wendy (Left), playing oboe & flute duets, 1973
The years I was an undergraduate were turbulent. Twice, we ended the school year with student strikes, because of developments in the Vietnam War. There was no way to be oblivious to the consequences of the Vietnam War, when male friends were being drafted upon graduation. Unlike the Iraq War, which does not seem to impact current students, the Vietnam War intruded into the lives of everyone in their twenties. There were protests, rallies, teach-ins and massive activism in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The War was not over until I was in graduate school.
Another consequence of the Vietnam War was there was little activity at the Career Services Office, when I interviewed for jobs with a BS degree. Engineers were being laid off all over. Remember also, there was no such thing as Affirmative Action. Want ads in the paper were segregated by jobs for Men and jobs for Women.
In my junior year, I took a class in the Materials Science & Engineering Department that introduced glass and ceramics. I enjoyed the course, and I got up my courage to ask the professor if he had any summer internships available. This was shortly after the Lunar Space Missions that brought back moon rocks. The professor was intrigued by early reports that some of the moon rocks contained glass. The presence of glass in rocks is not common on the earth, and its presence places some limitations on the source and history of the rocks. He had funding from NASA to investigate the conditions under which moon rocks would contain glass. He asked me if I would like to work on moon rocks. Wow! This was it. My dream job. Needless to say, I accepted the internship. Not only did I work over the summer, but I extended this study for my BS thesis. Ultimately, it was the basis for my graduate work and my PhD thesis on ďCrystallization in Mineral SystemsĒ. My moon rock sample was stored in a wall vault near the lab. All tests on the sample had to be non-destructive, and when I was done with the sample, it was returned to the Moon Rock Collection at the Johnson Space Center in Houston.
After finishing my PhD, I looked for academic positions. I came to Rutgers a few years after the Engineering School accepted women students on an equal basis with men. I was the first female faculty member in the school, the first female faculty member in my department, and, unfortunately, 30 years later, still the only female professor in my department. I have continued working on natural materials, moon rocks, tektites and glassy meteorites collected on earth. I have expanded from these studies into other glass-forming systems and glass-forming processes, in particular, the sol-gel process.
Over the past 30 years, I have seen ups and downs in the acceptance of women in my field. While I remain optimistic, I would never have predicted that after 30 years, I would still be the only woman in my department. I highly recommend an academic career because of the flexibility it offers for how you want to spend your sixty plus hours per week. I have had the chance to travel, do original research, invent patentable technologies, teach, consult, advise, and, oh-by-the-way, get married and have a daughter. I think I still have a few good ideas left, so I think Iíll keep doing what I am doing.