Visualizing Women in Science, Mathematics and Engineering
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  • Frances Hellman

    Professor and Chair of the Division of Material Physics at the University of California at Dan Diego, Hellman loves the mixture of research and teaching that she has found in academia, although there were times when, as a student, she was frustrated and discouraged with her studies. After taking a stimulating high school physics course with only six other students, Hellman went to Dartmouth college to major in Physics, but she found the introductory course to be ``boring and difficult"-a lethal combination. In fact, she considered changing majors. She would be discouraged again her senior year in college and in graduate school, but each time she had good mentors who helped her to work through these motivational crises. After receiving her Bachelor's Degree in 1978, Hellman went on to earn her Ph.D. in Applied Physics from Stanford in 1985, and then to complete a two year post-doc at Bell Labs in New Jersey. She then began teaching at U.C.S.D., and was elected a fellow of the American Physical Society.

    When she embarked on this career, Hellman imagined that physicists had ``purely intellectual" and ``solitary" lives. She has been pleased to find instead that her responsibilities are diverse (including teaching, working in the lab, doing research, sitting on committees) and that the life of a scientist is surprisingly social. She has also selected an area of concentration--Condensed Matter Physics--which has practical applications. Her research involves studying how electrons work through a magnetic field, and how that effects their ability to carry an electric current. The materials she studies are useful for magnetic recording; for example, that recent innovation in recording technology, the minidisk, combines lasers and magnetics.

    When asked about her source of inspiration, Hellman explains that because ideas aren't generated in a vacuum, she usually puts a lot of information in her brain and lets it percolate. She considers the creative-inventive process to be ``synergystic". In addition to her work as a scientist and academic, Hellman is an avid soccer player, a baseball enthusiast (she and her husband have season tickets to the Padres), and a passionate theater-goer. She has three beautiful Persian cats and no children.