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Condensed Matter Physics

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Betsy Ancker-Johnson


Additional Information

Significant Contributions to Plasmas in Solids:

Her early contributions to the study of the instabilities that can occur in plasmas in solids, such as pinching (1963) and oscillatory behavior (1962), culminated in her observation of microwave emission from an electron-hole plasma (1967). The latter is the first observation of microwave emission without the presence of an external field, but initiated only by the application of an external electric field. These non-equilibrium processes in solid state plasmas occur at higher plasma density than are usually studied in dilute gaseous plasmas. This work has led to the realization by others that solid state plasmas may serve as microwave sources of radiation.

Some Important Publications:

"Thermal Pinching in Electron-Hole Plasmas," Physical Review 131: 1961 (1963), with J. E. Drummond.

"Some Observations of Growing Oscillations in Electron-Hole Plasma," Physical Review Letters 9: 485 (1962).

"Microwave Emission from Magnetic-Field-Free Electron-Hole Plasma," Appl. Phys. Letters 10: 279 (1967).


Fellow, American Physical Society
Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science
Fellow, Society of Automotive Engineers
Fellow, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE)
Member, National Academy of Engineering
Performance Excellence Award, Boeing Co.
Award of Excellence, Carborundum Company 1976
Chairman's Award, American Association of Engineering Societies 1986

Honorary Doctor of Science: New York Polytechnic Institute 1979
University of Southern California 1984
Honorary Doctor of Law:
Bates College 1980


1953-54 Junior Reasearch Physicist and Lecturer in Physics, University of California, Berkeley
1954-56 Staff, Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship, Chicago
1956-58 Senior Research Physicist, Microwave Physic Laboratory, Sylvania Electric Products, Inc., Palo Alto, CA
1958-61 Technical Staff, David Sarnoff Research Center, Radio Corporation of America (RCA)
1961-70 Research Specialist, Plasma Physics Laboratory, Boeing Science Research Laboratories, Seattle, WA
1961-73 Affiliate Professor of Electrical Engineering, University of Washington
1967-68 Visiting Scientist, Bell Laboratories
1970-71 Supervisor, Solid State and Plasma Electronics, Boeing Aerospace Company
1971-73 Manager, Advanced Energy System, Boeing Aerospace Company
1973-77 Assistant Secretary for Science and Technology, US Department of Commerce (first woman Presidential appointee in the US Department of Commerce)
1977-79 Associate Laboratory Director, Physics Research, Argonne National Laboratory
1979-92 Vice-President of General Motors i/c Environmental Activity Staff (first woman vice-president in the auto industry)
1988-89 Regents Lecturer, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, University of California, Berkeley


B.A. Wellesley College 1949
Ph.D. Tuebingen University, Germany 1953

Sources and References consulted

Betsy Ancker-Johnson, [4B AMWS], [sws1973baj]

Additional Information/Comments

Excerpts from an address given by Ancker-Johnson at APS annual meeting 1971. [sws1973baj]
    "My undergraduate years at Wellesley College, during which I became increasingly fascinated with physics, were idyllic. No professor, either male or female, ever told me a woman can't think analytically. It did happen that some of my MIT and Harvard dates, upon learning of my major and my interest in going to graduate school, dutifully informed me that my chances of finding a husband were nil. I was totally unprepared psychologically for what followed... During my first year of graduate school, what seemed to me like an infinite number of professors, teaching assistants and colleagues, none of whom were women, told me that women can't think analytically and I must therefore, be husband hunting... it seems that a woman in physics must be at least twice as determined as a man with the same competence, in order to achieve as much as he does."

    "But let me tell you what it was like to job-hunt as a new, female Ph.D. in physics... I was in a special subset that employers had decided was not dependable; i.e., a woman will marry and quit, and what is invested in her goes down the drain... This was the worst prejudice I've ever encountered. In graduate school the psychological putdowns were hard to bear, but I was allowed to study. As a job-hunter, I was not being given an opportunity to show I could succeed, and not even being told why the opportunity was being withheld. How can you solve a problem you can't get your teeth into?" [sws1973baj]
    "I had my first baby as an industrial research physicist, and it was an unnecessarily unpleasant experience. My private life was delved into by half-a-dozen executives in interviews that no one should have to endure... I wasn't even allowed to enter the laboratory building for three months before the birth to hear a talk or get a book out of my private collection without special permission of the laboratory director. In order to understand something of how I felt, a member of the majority would have to have an advanced case of leprosy. [When] my second baby was born... my paycheck stopped eight weeks before expected delivery (a company rule) and resumed six weeks after (a state law). However, no one cared that I went right on working... I must say I thought it a bit perverse, though, when the wife of one of my assistants had a baby a few weeks later and he was given a week's leave with pay."
Betsy Ancker-Johnson married harold H. Johnson in 1958 and they have four children - Ruth, David, Paul and Martha.

Some Professional Activities:

Member, US-USSR Commission on Science & Technology (1973-77)
Member, US Energy Commission (1975-77)
Member, Board of Directors, Society of Automotive Engineers (1979-82)
Director of Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (1982-92)
Chair, Energy Policy Committee, Motor Vehicle Manufacturers Association (1981-84)
Member, US Safety Review Panel, Antartica, NSF (1987-88)
Chair, World Environment Center (1988-94)
Director, World Environment Center (1988-present)
Member, Relative Risk Reduction Strategies Committee, US Environmental Protection Agency (1989-present)
Science Advisory Board & International Environmental Technology Transfer Advisory Board (1989-present)
Councillor, National Academy of Engineering (1995-present)

Field Editor: Professor Rubin Braunstein


Original citer's name:

Mary Drummond Roby

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To cite this citation:
" Ancker-Johnson, Betsy." CWP < home >


latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb