By Miriam Boon
Persis Drell, Director of Research
(Photo by Diana Rogers)
Discover Magazine, in their November 2002 issue, has
named Persis Drell, SLAC Director of Research one of the 50 most important
women in science.
Kathy Svitil, an Associate Editor for Discover Magazine,
began her search for innovative and influential women over three years
ago. "We wanted women who were groundbreakers," she said, "whose work was
making a difference, who were, or had, crashed through barriers."
Svitil collected names of women who might fit the bill by
looking through journals, newspaper and magazine articles, awards lists
and more. She sent out a call for academic, scientific and industrial
sources to put forward candidates from their ranks. "In the end I must
have had over 500 names," she said. Svitil and Gay Daly, Senior Editor for
Discover Magazine, then winnowed the group down to 50 exceptional
women. Drell was among those chosen.
For Svitil and Daly, Drell was an easy and immediate
choice. "She fit every criteria we had: powerful, influential, important."
As Svitil describes, SLAC is one of the two great particle physics labs in
the country, and Drell runs the research program here. Because of this,
Drell has a "responsibility for shaping a large part of the high-energy
research in the entire field."
Being a woman in physics has not been easy. Among SLAC’s
500-plus physicists, less than 50 are female. Drell reminisces that in her
first-year graduate school courses, she was scared to ask questions
because if they turned out to be "dumb," everyone would remember it was
she who asked—she was the only woman in a class of 45. "I got over that
feeling!" she said.
Later in her career, Drell struggled with issues caused by
the possibility that she received opportunities because she was a woman.
"I was never very comfortable with that, but after a while I just felt
that if someone offered me an opportunity it was up to me to make the most
of it and I shouldn’t worry what their motives were."
Drell, who has children, said, "Raising kids is excellent
on-the-job experience for management in high energy physics!" In the
magazine profile, she describes particle physics as "finding the smallest
Lego that you can make everything else out of."