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Oral-History:Thelma Estrin (1992)

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== About Thelma Estrin  ==
 
== About Thelma Estrin  ==
  
[[Image:Thelma Estrin 2608.jpg|thumb|center|Thelma Estrin]]  
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[[Image:Thelma Estrin 2608.jpg|thumb|left|Thelma Estrin]]  
  
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[[Thelma Estrin|Thelma Estrin]], a 1977 [[IEEE Fellow Grade History|IEEE Life Fellow]] "for contributions to the design and application of computer systems for neurophysiological and brain research," is a pioneer in the field of biomedical engineering and as well as&nbsp; IEEE's first female vice president. Thelma was born and raised in New York City, an only child.&nbsp; Estrin&nbsp; was educated at the University of Wisconsin, receiving her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.&nbsp; in 1948, 1949 and 1951, respectively. When her husband Jerry joined [[John von Neumann|John Von Neumann]] at Princeton, was hired at the Electroencephalography Department of the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Thelma and Jerry spent fifteen months in Israel working on the WEIZAC (WEIZmann Automatic Computer). In 1960, Thelma joined the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and in 1970 became the Director of its Data Processing Laboratory. In 1980 Thelma became a professor in residence in the Computer Science Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA. She retired in July 1991 at the age of sixty-seven.<br>  
 
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[[Thelma Estrin|Thelma Estrin]], a 1977 IEEE Life Fellow "for contributions to the design and application of computer systems for neurophysiological and brain research," is a pioneer in the field of biomedical engineering and as the IEEE's first female vice president. Thelma was born in New York City, an only child who was destined to attend college and attain greater achievements. When her husband Jerry joined John Von Neumann at Princeton, was hired at the Electroencephalography Department of the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Thelma and Jerry spent fifteen months in Israel working on the WEIZAC (WEIZmann Automatic Computer). In 1960, Thelma joined the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and in 1970 became the Director of its Data Processing Laboratory. In 1980 Thelma became a professor in residence in the Computer Science Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA. She retired in July 1991 at the age of sixty-seven.<br>  
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Thelma has been an active IEEE volunteer, serving as an officer of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and on the Technical Activities Board, and she was the first woman to be elected to the IEEE Board of Directors. In 1982 she served as executive vice president of IEEE. She has received many honors from the Institute, including the Haradan Pratt Award in 1991. <br>
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Thelma has been an active IEEE volunteer, serving as an officer of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and on the Technical Activities Board, and she was the first woman to be elected to the IEEE Board of Directors. In 1982 she served as executive vice president of IEEE. She has received many honors from the Institute, including the Haradan Pratt Award in 1991. Estrin died on February 15th, 2014.
  
 
For more information, see Thelma Estrin’s [http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Thelma_Estrin biography].  
 
For more information, see Thelma Estrin’s [http://www.ieeeghn.org/wiki/index.php/Thelma_Estrin biography].  
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This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
 
This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.  
  
Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, 39 Union Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901-8538 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
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Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.  
  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
 
It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:  
  
Thelma Estrin, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, New Brunswick, NJ, USA.  
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Thelma Estrin, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.  
  
 
<br>  
 
<br>  
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'''Estrin:'''  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
  
Yes, she was on the staff of the camp. She took care of minor health problems and helped wash the heads of the younger children. Campers and counselors came to her for advice. The other thing she did was to be very active in the Democratic Party. I recall that she used to get people's tickets cancelled, or "squashed" as the term was called. If you lived in the neighborhood and received a ticket for driving, she could get it cancelled. The last thing I remember about her was that she worked on the 1940 census. She worked hard on the census and went around collecting vital information, as a census-taker. But she was suffering from cancer and went to the hospital after that and died in March, 1941, when I was seventeen. Before marriage she was very active in the Eastern Star, and was a chapter president.  
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Yes, she was on the staff of the camp. She took care of minor health problems and helped wash the heads of the younger children. Campers and counselors came to her for advice. The other thing she did was to be very active in the Democratic Party. I recall that she used to get people's tickets cancelled, or "squashed" as the term was called. If you lived in the neighborhood and received a ticket for driving, she could get it cancelled. The last thing I remember about her was that she worked on the 1940 [[U.S. Census Bureau‎|census]]. She worked hard on the census and went around collecting vital information, as a census-taker. But she was suffering from cancer and went to the hospital after that and died in March, 1941, when I was seventeen. Before marriage she was very active in the Eastern Star, and was a chapter president.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Estrin:'''  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
  
Yes, but we would do other activities. We would write and pass out leaflets in front of the school, mainly defending the Soviet position on the Soviet-Finnish war. We would support our position in a dogmatic way. The ASU people became my new high school friends. When my mother went to work on the census, we had a long talk. My mother disliked the ASU organization, and so did my father. My father was from the South, and was very prejudiced, though he loved black music and entertainment. I remember when I was five, going to the Apollo — or some big theater. A black comedian on the stage said, "Does anybody have a dollar bill?" And my father walks up and gives the man a hundred dollar bill. He cuts the bill and puts it in a lemon. After some talk and jokes the hundred dollar bill finally emerges. My father liked that sort of entertainment. He was very flashy and he loved sports.  
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Yes, but we would do other activities. We would write and pass out leaflets in front of the school, mainly defending the Soviet position on the Soviet-Finnish war. We would support our position in a dogmatic way. The ASU people became my new high school friends. When my mother went to work on the [[U.S. Census Bureau‎|census]], we had a long talk. My mother disliked the ASU organization, and so did my father. My father was from the South, and was very prejudiced, though he loved black music and entertainment. I remember when I was five, going to the Apollo — or some big theater. A black comedian on the stage said, "Does anybody have a dollar bill?" And my father walks up and gives the man a hundred dollar bill. He cuts the bill and puts it in a lemon. After some talk and jokes the hundred dollar bill finally emerges. My father liked that sort of entertainment. He was very flashy and he loved sports.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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When you moved straight out into Institute housing. You said last night that you liked that atmosphere.  
 
When you moved straight out into Institute housing. You said last night that you liked that atmosphere.  
  
Von Neumann, Bigelow, Charney  
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Von Neumann, [[Julian Bigelow|Bigelow]], Charney  
  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
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'''Estrin:'''  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
  
Yes, that's right. It was her idea, with Magoun, to have a conference. I hired a secretary to administer the secretarial aspects. Brazier gave us a list of her buddies, whom we invited. They were well-known people in the EEG field and several from the MIT group working on computers in neurophysiology. Walter Rosenbluth was head of that MIT group. Molly's behavior with me proved typical.  
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Yes, that's right. It was her idea, with Magoun, to have a conference. I hired a secretary to administer the secretarial aspects. Brazier gave us a list of her buddies, whom we invited. They were well-known people in the EEG field and several from the MIT group working on computers in neurophysiology. [[Walter A. Rosenblith|Walter Rosenblith]] was head of that MIT group. Molly's behavior with me proved typical.  
  
 
She has published several papers on the electromagnetic fields of brain waves. On the first paper she states at the beginning "with thanks to James Casby for all his help." Working with Dr. Brazier you would realize that she knew almost nothing about electromagnetic fields. Casby must have explained what they were, and she converted his concepts into a research paper. As you followed reprints of this paper, Casby's name goes to the end of the article. And in a final paper I believe he is omitted altogether. In fact the idea for the work certainly came from him. Before Dr. Brazier moved to UCLA, she worked with a bright young physician by the name of John Barlow. Magoun funded me to go and learn about Molly's equipment and help her get started in the BRI. Barlow hosted me. All the equipment that she brought for analog correlations of EEG waves were conceived, built, and used by Barlow. But she brought them to UCLA, and left him to build new equipment.  
 
She has published several papers on the electromagnetic fields of brain waves. On the first paper she states at the beginning "with thanks to James Casby for all his help." Working with Dr. Brazier you would realize that she knew almost nothing about electromagnetic fields. Casby must have explained what they were, and she converted his concepts into a research paper. As you followed reprints of this paper, Casby's name goes to the end of the article. And in a final paper I believe he is omitted altogether. In fact the idea for the work certainly came from him. Before Dr. Brazier moved to UCLA, she worked with a bright young physician by the name of John Barlow. Magoun funded me to go and learn about Molly's equipment and help her get started in the BRI. Barlow hosted me. All the equipment that she brought for analog correlations of EEG waves were conceived, built, and used by Barlow. But she brought them to UCLA, and left him to build new equipment.  
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With DPL you could record analog data on a tape, and then get DPL to digitize the recordings. Magoun was always looking for a name to call our computer aided research. We used to call it "computer-age brain research." The essence was to take this qualitative neurophysiological art, where people were looking at the gross objectives and trying to quantify and measure them.  
 
With DPL you could record analog data on a tape, and then get DPL to digitize the recordings. Magoun was always looking for a name to call our computer aided research. We used to call it "computer-age brain research." The essence was to take this qualitative neurophysiological art, where people were looking at the gross objectives and trying to quantify and measure them.  
  
The discovery of DNA and Rosalyn Yalow's discovery of radioimmunoassay propelled the development of molecular biology and then of neuroscience. Today, neuroscience is primarily chemical and biological. About 80 to 85 percent of the papers that are published I don't understand at all. There are still people doing electrical recordings, but asking better questions of their data.  
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The discovery of [[DNA - From Nature to Technology|DNA]] and Rosalyn Yalow's discovery of radioimmunoassay propelled the development of molecular biology and then of neuroscience. Today, neuroscience is primarily chemical and biological. About 80 to 85 percent of the papers that are published I don't understand at all. There are still people doing electrical recordings, but asking better questions of their data.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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Possibly in two schools: engineering and medicine in computer science and anatomy. Money was given to UCLA in '74 by an alumnus to form a biomedical institute called the Crump Institute. For about six years the school searched for a director. Jerry was put on the search committee for a few years. The committee contained members from the medical school and the engineering school, and possibly others.  
 
Possibly in two schools: engineering and medicine in computer science and anatomy. Money was given to UCLA in '74 by an alumnus to form a biomedical institute called the Crump Institute. For about six years the school searched for a director. Jerry was put on the search committee for a few years. The committee contained members from the medical school and the engineering school, and possibly others.  
  
I might have gotten an appointment with some Crump money if Chauncey Starr, a new Dean in SEAS, had remained in that position. He was interested in women appointments, and was interested in me. But he was only at the university for about two or three years, and he got bored with the position. He had come from General Dynamics in San Diego. He actually encouraged me. We became friends and went to his house a number of times. I had a discussion with him in probably '72 — in which he encouraged me to take an appointment in the engineering school. And I said, "Well, why would I want to take an appointment in the engineering school?" Then I'd have to teach courses, and in the Med School I can do research. I remember that discussion with him. He made a lot of appointments at the time and started a materials department. But he left in '74.  
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I might have gotten an appointment with some Crump money if [[Chauncey Starr|Chauncey Starr]], a new Dean in SEAS, had remained in that position. He was interested in women appointments, and was interested in me. But he was only at the university for about two or three years, and he got bored with the position. He had come from General Dynamics in San Diego. He actually encouraged me. We became friends and went to his house a number of times. I had a discussion with him in probably '72 — in which he encouraged me to take an appointment in the engineering school. And I said, "Well, why would I want to take an appointment in the engineering school?" Then I'd have to teach courses, and in the Med School I can do research. I remember that discussion with him. He made a lot of appointments at the time and started a materials department. But he left in '74.  
  
 
=== Crump Institute  ===
 
=== Crump Institute  ===
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A big issues that came up was, Should there be a computer science directorate? Nobody who was at NSF wanted another directorate, because it would impinge on their directorate funds. Differences in our division occurred on whether grants were computer science or communication engineering. The program manager for Computer Engineering only had two million dollars in funds, and needed an increase. The manager for Electrical and Optical Communications had about six million dollars in funding, and thought all of the network research were communication issues.  
 
A big issues that came up was, Should there be a computer science directorate? Nobody who was at NSF wanted another directorate, because it would impinge on their directorate funds. Differences in our division occurred on whether grants were computer science or communication engineering. The program manager for Computer Engineering only had two million dollars in funds, and needed an increase. The manager for Electrical and Optical Communications had about six million dollars in funding, and thought all of the network research were communication issues.  
  
As soon as Erich Bloch arrived at NSF, he formed the Computer Science Directorate. ECSE became Electrical, Communications and Systems engineering which is the name today. I was pleased by the change. While I was at NSF I was treated very well, and I loved working there and being in Washington. We subleased an apartment in Watergate, with a view of the Potomac. It was great. Jerry joined me for the second academic year.  
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As soon as [[Erich Bloch|Erich Bloch]] arrived at NSF, he formed the Computer Science Directorate. ECSE became Electrical, Communications and Systems engineering which is the name today. I was pleased by the change. While I was at NSF I was treated very well, and I loved working there and being in Washington. We subleased an apartment in Watergate, with a view of the Potomac. It was great. Jerry joined me for the second academic year.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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No, it was at the same time. She was a strong outspoken feminist, who was determined to train the men instantly to agree with her thinking and method of speaking. They were angry at her. She would stop a meeting every time the speaker didn't use he or she, instead of he. She was just very determined to train all men at all times, and they got tired of her speeches. She was also bringing a suite against NIH.  
 
No, it was at the same time. She was a strong outspoken feminist, who was determined to train the men instantly to agree with her thinking and method of speaking. They were angry at her. She would stop a meeting every time the speaker didn't use he or she, instead of he. She was just very determined to train all men at all times, and they got tired of her speeches. She was also bringing a suite against NIH.  
  
From Ad Com I went on to become president of EMB in 1977. Some of the people like Bob Plonsey, Leon Wheelis, Dick Gowen and Eli Fromm became friends, and I was very active during the next decade in IEEE. The Technical Activities Board was very active at the time and Richard Emberson, TAB Staff Director was very supportive and helpful. I even put out the issues of our EMB Newsletter, because the person who was the editor was at MIT and could never get the bulletin out on time. He was probably trying to get tenure.  
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From Ad Com I went on to become president of EMB in 1977. Some of the people like [[Robert Plonsey|Bob Plonsey]], Leon Wheelis, Dick Gowen and Eli Fromm became friends, and I was very active during the next decade in IEEE. The Technical Activities Board was very active at the time and Richard Emberson, TAB Staff Director was very supportive and helpful. I even put out the issues of our EMB Newsletter, because the person who was the editor was at MIT and could never get the bulletin out on time. He was probably trying to get tenure.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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My term was just for one year. After that we changed the by-laws and a Chair could stay for two years. I next decided to run for division director of our IEEE Division, which included the Education, Professional Communications and the Management Societies. I don't believe any woman had run in a membership election for the Board of Directors. [[Irene Peden|Irene Peden]] had been Vice President for Education, which was an appointed position.  
 
My term was just for one year. After that we changed the by-laws and a Chair could stay for two years. I next decided to run for division director of our IEEE Division, which included the Education, Professional Communications and the Management Societies. I don't believe any woman had run in a membership election for the Board of Directors. [[Irene Peden|Irene Peden]] had been Vice President for Education, which was an appointed position.  
  
I decided to run for this office with very little encouragement from IEEE members. Dick Gowen thought he might run for a second term. Eric Herz suggested I run only if I felt nobody else, who was well qualified, would run. The editor of the Engineering Management Society Newsletter put out his bulletin, suggesting to members that they not vote for me. I was asked to write something of a certain length for the Newsletter. I did, but they only printed a small piece of what I wrote. I thought the Newsletter had given me unfair and unequal treatment, and took the matter to the Board of Directors. I listed all the reasons why it was unfair and unequal. Finally the IEEE Directors concurred that it was unfair and unequal. I did run for our division board member and got elected by a good margin.  
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I decided to run for this office with very little encouragement from IEEE members. Dick Gowen thought he might run for a second term. [[Eric Herz]] suggested I run only if I felt nobody else, who was well qualified, would run. The editor of the Engineering Management Society Newsletter put out his bulletin, suggesting to members that they not vote for me. I was asked to write something of a certain length for the Newsletter. I did, but they only printed a small piece of what I wrote. I thought the Newsletter had given me unfair and unequal treatment, and took the matter to the Board of Directors. I listed all the reasons why it was unfair and unequal. Finally the IEEE Directors concurred that it was unfair and unequal. I did run for our division board member and got elected by a good margin.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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True. But have you heard of TQM — Technical Quality Management — which the Japanese have pushed and which is very much what we're talking about? TQM relates to team management and cooperating as a team to design and produce a product. Women are cooperative and work well together. Men tend to be more competitive. Engineers have to know and understand the needs of the purchaser of their products or services.  
 
True. But have you heard of TQM — Technical Quality Management — which the Japanese have pushed and which is very much what we're talking about? TQM relates to team management and cooperating as a team to design and produce a product. Women are cooperative and work well together. Men tend to be more competitive. Engineers have to know and understand the needs of the purchaser of their products or services.  
  
Actually I first learned about team cooperation, in USAB, from somebody named Bob Rivers. He explained how team teaching and teamwork is such an important part of engineering. Working together to produce a product. Now whereas men work together in competitive events on a team, you find much more conflict and confrontation in the male environment. While women really prefer a cooperative, collective method to achieve an end. I can remember the first talk that I gave at NSF. My first question was from the head of the NSF Board, Lou Branscomb, who was from IBM. He instantly jumped in and asked a small, possibly embarrassing question. Later I realized that his style was common in corporations-this jockeying and arguing over small issues, and neglecting the main points. I believe competitive and confrontational styles are now changing. Today, women are not aware that the purpose of engineering is to produce goods and services that will advance the health and well being of mankind. Few universities have an introduction to engineering as a freshmen course. The emphasis, in the first year, is on math, physics and chemistry. The courses taken together can become very difficult. Women are interested in problem solving of human issues, while the basic tenets of these courses are rarely related to real problems, and women drop out. There is no interplay between technology and society that might encourage freshmen women. Women like a broader view of what they're doing in relation to others. They're not as narrowly focused. Each engineering subject is very narrowly focused. Women don't fully realize that if they became engineers, they could have interesting professional positions, with many options.  
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Actually I first learned about team cooperation, in USAB, from somebody named [[Robert A. Rivers|Bob Rivers]]. He explained how team teaching and teamwork is such an important part of engineering. Working together to produce a product. Now whereas men work together in competitive events on a team, you find much more conflict and confrontation in the male environment. While women really prefer a cooperative, collective method to achieve an end. I can remember the first talk that I gave at NSF. My first question was from the head of the NSF Board, Lou Branscomb, who was from IBM. He instantly jumped in and asked a small, possibly embarrassing question. Later I realized that his style was common in corporations-this jockeying and arguing over small issues, and neglecting the main points. I believe competitive and confrontational styles are now changing. Today, women are not aware that the purpose of engineering is to produce goods and services that will advance the health and well being of mankind. Few universities have an introduction to engineering as a freshmen course. The emphasis, in the first year, is on math, physics and chemistry. The courses taken together can become very difficult. Women are interested in problem solving of human issues, while the basic tenets of these courses are rarely related to real problems, and women drop out. There is no interplay between technology and society that might encourage freshmen women. Women like a broader view of what they're doing in relation to others. They're not as narrowly focused. Each engineering subject is very narrowly focused. Women don't fully realize that if they became engineers, they could have interesting professional positions, with many options.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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'''Estrin:'''  
 
'''Estrin:'''  
  
Okay. Deborah Estrin, who's the youngest was born in late '59, she was just promoted to an Associate Professor of Computer Science at USC. Her research area is network computing and the security of networks. She is very active in her technical field, on a number of journals and committees. She has a son who's five, and her husband is in the computer science department at UCLA. They're both members of IEEE, since this is an IEEE history talk. Judy is the vice president of Network Computing Devices. It's a company that is about three to four years old, which went public about three months ago. They are the leading makers of graphics x-terminals that use research developed at MIT for displaying graphics in UNIX. The company is doing very well. She's also, as I told you, on the board of Federal Express. She formed NCD with her husband, who's the president. They have about three hundred employees. Judy's master's thesis at Stanford was in network communications in about 1978. She and Bill were one of the first people in local area networks with a company called Bridge, which was also a public company. Then Bridge joined 3 COM, and Judy and Bill left the merger and formed NCD. Judy's a member of IEEE, and they have one son who's two. My oldest daughter is Margo. She's a physician, an internist in Danville, near Berkeley. She has her own private practice. Her husband has a Ph.D. in psychology, but several years ago moved to the mergers and acquisitions business. They have two daughters aged seven and two and a half.  
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Okay. Deborah Estrin, who's the youngest was born in late '59, she was just promoted to an Associate Professor of Computer Science at USC. Her research area is network computing and the security of networks. She is very active in her technical field, on a number of journals and committees. She has a son who's five, and her husband is in the computer science department at UCLA. They're both members of IEEE, since this is an IEEE history talk. Judy is the vice president of Network Computing Devices. It's a company that is about three to four years old, which went public about three months ago. They are the leading makers of graphics x-terminals that use research developed at MIT for displaying graphics in [[UNIX]]. The company is doing very well. She's also, as I told you, on the board of Federal Express. She formed NCD with her husband, who's the president. They have about three hundred employees. Judy's master's thesis at Stanford was in network communications in about 1978. She and Bill were one of the first people in local area networks with a company called Bridge, which was also a public company. Then Bridge joined 3 COM, and Judy and Bill left the merger and formed NCD. Judy's a member of IEEE, and they have one son who's two. My oldest daughter is Margo. She's a physician, an internist in Danville, near Berkeley. She has her own private practice. Her husband has a Ph.D. in psychology, but several years ago moved to the mergers and acquisitions business. They have two daughters aged seven and two and a half.  
  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
 
'''Nebeker:'''  
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No, but she has an M.D. I mean, the only non-doctor.<br>  
 
No, but she has an M.D. I mean, the only non-doctor.<br>  
  
[[Category:Power,_energy_&_industry_application|Category:Power,_energy_&amp;_industry_application]] [[Category:Defense_&_security|Category:Defense_&amp;_security]] [[Category:People_and_organizations]] [[Category:Engineers]] [[Category:Inventors]] [[Category:Bioengineering]] [[Category:Biomedical_computing]] [[Category:IEEE]] [[Category:Engineering_profession]] [[Category:Engineering_education]] [[Category:Electrical_engineering_education]] [[Category:Consumer_electronics]] [[Category:Culture_and_society]] [[Category:World_War_II]] [[Category:Communications]] [[Category:Communication_equipment]] [[Category:Radio_communication_equipment]] [[Category:Biomedical_equipment]] [[Category:Biomedical_electrodes]] [[Category:Biomedical_measurements]] [[Category:Electroencephalography]] [[Category:Computers_and_information_processing]] [[Category:Computer_classes]] [[Category:Microcomputers]] [[Category:Transportation]] [[Category:Aerospace_and_electronic_systems]][[Category:News]]
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[[Category:Power, energy & industry applications|Estrin]] [[Category:Defense & security|Estrin]] [[Category:People and organizations|Estrin]] [[Category:Engineers|Estrin]] [[Category:Inventors|Estrin]] [[Category:Bioengineering|Estrin]] [[Category:Biomedical computing|Estrin]] [[Category:IEEE|Estrin]] [[Category:Engineering profession|Estrin]] [[Category:Engineering education|Estrin]] [[Category:Electrical engineering education|Estrin]] [[Category:Consumer electronics|Estrin]] [[Category:Culture and society|Estrin]] [[Category:World War II|Estrin]] [[Category:Communications|Estrin]] [[Category:Communication equipment|Estrin]] [[Category:Radio communication equipment|Estrin]] [[Category:Biomedical equipment|Estrin]] [[Category:Biomedical electrodes|Estrin]] [[Category:Biomedical measurements|Estrin]] [[Category:Electroencephalography|Estrin]] [[Category:Computers and information processing|Estrin]] [[Category:Computer classes|Estrin]] [[Category:Microcomputers|Estrin]] [[Category:Transportation|Estrin]] [[Category:Aerospace and electronic systems|Estrin]] [[Category:News|Estrin]]

Revision as of 16:39, 30 June 2014

Contents

About Thelma Estrin

Thelma Estrin
Thelma Estrin

Thelma Estrin, a 1977 IEEE Life Fellow "for contributions to the design and application of computer systems for neurophysiological and brain research," is a pioneer in the field of biomedical engineering and as well as  IEEE's first female vice president. Thelma was born and raised in New York City, an only child.  Estrin  was educated at the University of Wisconsin, receiving her B.S., M.S. and Ph.D.  in 1948, 1949 and 1951, respectively. When her husband Jerry joined John Von Neumann at Princeton, was hired at the Electroencephalography Department of the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital. Thelma and Jerry spent fifteen months in Israel working on the WEIZAC (WEIZmann Automatic Computer). In 1960, Thelma joined the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and in 1970 became the Director of its Data Processing Laboratory. In 1980 Thelma became a professor in residence in the Computer Science Department of the School of Engineering and Applied Science at UCLA. She retired in July 1991 at the age of sixty-seven.

Thelma has been an active IEEE volunteer, serving as an officer of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and on the Technical Activities Board, and she was the first woman to be elected to the IEEE Board of Directors. In 1982 she served as executive vice president of IEEE. She has received many honors from the Institute, including the Haradan Pratt Award in 1991. Estrin died on February 15th, 2014.

For more information, see Thelma Estrin’s biography.


About the Interview

THELMA ESTRIN: An Interview Conducted by Rik Nebeker, Center for the History of Electrical Engineering, 24-25 August 1992

Interview #142 for the Center for the History of Electrical Engineering The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, Inc.

Copyright Statement

This manuscript is being made available for research purposes only. All literary rights in the manuscript, including the right to publish, are reserved to the IEEE History Center. No part of the manuscript may be quoted for publication without the written permission of the Director of IEEE History Center.

Request for permission to quote for publication should be addressed to the IEEE History Center Oral History Program, IEEE History Center at Stevens Institute of Technology, Castle Point on Hudson, Hoboken, NJ 07030 USA. It should include identification of the specific passages to be quoted, anticipated use of the passages, and identification of the user.

It is recommended that this oral history be cited as follows:

Thelma Estrin, an oral history conducted in 1992 by Frederik Nebeker, IEEE History Center, Hoboken, NJ, USA.


Interview

INTERVIEW: Thelma Estrin
INTERVIEWED BY: Rik Nebeker
PLACE: Thelma Estrin's home in Santa Monica, CA
DATE: 24-25 August 1992

Early Life

Family

Nebeker:

I'm talking with Thelma Estrin at her home in Santa Monica, California on the 24th of August 1992. This is Rik Nebeker. I wanted to ask you first about your parents.

Estrin:

Okay. I'm an only child. My mother was born in New York City. She married, I guess, in the early 'twenties and went to college for about a year.

Nebeker:

She grew up in New York?

Estrin:

She was born and grew up in New York City. Her father was a very orthodox Jewish man. Her mother died and was buried in Jerusalem. He was married again and I used to go and visit them very often on a Saturday.

Nebeker:

But you weren't raised in that religious philosophy?

Estrin:

I was, somewhat. She married my father, who was not religious at all. She was religious in her own right. She was very proud that she could speak Yiddish and read it, and she kept the religion going in the family. My father was Jewish. He was born and grew up in Atlanta, Georgia, and came to New York when he was about twenty-five and met my mother. He also was Jewish but not religious. On Christmas eve he would set up a whole pile of presents for me. My mother never looked at the gifts and ignored their presence. He was a traveling salesman and he always brought me lots of presents every day.

Nebeker:

Was it a Kosher home?

Estrin:

Yes. But my father was not observant, though he did what he had to do to keep her satisfied. It was a typical home where my mother ran the kitchen, where religious laws were kept. Prior to her marriage, she owned and operated an automobile maintenance-parts store. Probably financed by her brothers, who were quite well to do. A cousin once told me that there was a picture of my mother in an auto magazine or bulletin, just when automobiles became popular. She did know how to drive which is something she never told me. When I went to camp as a young child, I saw her driving a car. I told her, "You were driving a car. "She said, "No, I wasn't." It was a different culture, and conventional women didn't drive automobiles. I remember her being different from other women. When she married my father, he was rather comfortable, not rich but upper middle class. Then the Depression hit them, and he never really quite recovered from that. She wanted me to go to summer camp, and she became a camp mother so I could go to the summer camp for no fee.

Nebeker:

Does that mean she worked there?

Estrin:

Yes, she was on the staff of the camp. She took care of minor health problems and helped wash the heads of the younger children. Campers and counselors came to her for advice. The other thing she did was to be very active in the Democratic Party. I recall that she used to get people's tickets cancelled, or "squashed" as the term was called. If you lived in the neighborhood and received a ticket for driving, she could get it cancelled. The last thing I remember about her was that she worked on the 1940 census. She worked hard on the census and went around collecting vital information, as a census-taker. But she was suffering from cancer and went to the hospital after that and died in March, 1941, when I was seventeen. Before marriage she was very active in the Eastern Star, and was a chapter president.

Nebeker:

That was fairly unusual for a woman there in the 'twenties to be running a parts store.

Estrin:

I know. She had an older brother who had quite a bit of money. Apparently he bought this store for her, a parts shop, and people worked for her. A cousin, who was ten years older than I, told me the details.

Nebeker:

Was she older than usual when she married?

Estrin:

Probably twenty-seven. She had me when she was twenty-nine.

Nebeker:

So she had some kind of a career established before marriage.

Estrin:

Yes. She was a very giving person. When I was a kid, she was always preparing food for people who were ill, or listening to their problems. She was very much part of the community and very friendly and outgoing. We lived in a huge apartment house in New York City. I was born in what is now called Harlem — but at that time it was an upper-middle-class neighborhood. We had a large apartment. During the depression, my father went to Brighton Beach, which is in Brooklyn. He noticed the new apartment houses, and liked the proximity to the beach. We moved to an apartment about a block from the ocean. This occurred after 1929, and I imagine the Depression was a factor. Brighton Beach is a thirty minute train ride from New York City, and rentals on apartments must have been much cheaper.

Nebeker:

Did your mother keep her work after marriage?

Estrin:

Her work stopped when she was married. She stopped working professionally. She was very neat and clean. Even meticulous, and put a great deal of energy into homemaking. She also was active in the Democratic Party.

Nebeker:

Was that unusual at the time for a woman to be so active?

Estrin:

Yes, I think so. I was definitely brought up with the idea of being socially useful, from her. I was good in school. In Brighton we also lived in a large apartment house. The man who repaired and maintained all the plumbing and heating equipment had an apartment with his family, and they were friends with my mother. He had a son who wasn't very good in school. I remember helping him with his homework for many years in elementary school. I was always bright in school, but at the same time, I was always very sloppy. I was not neat and careful and would always lose my gloves or sweaters. When we began to write with ink, I always had blotty hands and clothes. I was athletic and loved sports.

Nebeker:

Did your mother check that you worked hard at school?

Estrin:

I don't think I had to work, but she was involved. She would bring presents to the teachers, usually shoes. My father was in the shoe business, and he always had shoes, even when economic times were bad. She would know the teachers well. I lived about a mile from school, and she would walk there with me. At noon she would even bring me a hot lunch, because she believed children were supposed to eat a hot lunch. She took very, very good care of me. I was a twin. The other twin died in the hospital, which is something else that she never told me. I learned this from relatives.

Nebeker:

At birth?

Estrin:

Yes. I weighed less than three pounds. All of this is just to tell you I was certainly brought up to go to college, which was not common in the 30s. When I went to school, probably 80 percent of the girls took a commercial course and studied typing. I still can't touch-type. I was in an academic course and prepared to go to college. My mother went to college for a year or two. According to my mother, I was going to be a lawyer. As I finished high school, I thought so too. I was a judge in our high school court, run by students.

Nebeker:

She had that always as the goal for you?

Estrin:

Yes, That I was going to go to college? Definitely. My mother loved people. She loved her father who was here from Russia, and spoke very poor English. She was part of this first generation, and didn't like accents. She didn't want me to speak with a New York accent. Yet today, after not living in New York for almost half a century, when I say a few words it's obvious that I'm from New York. I remember when I first went to Wisconsin, and we called a cab driver, and I said "hello." He said, "Oh, you're from New York." And that was the first time I realized that I have this thick New York accent. My mother wanted me to go to Hunter College. In those days, at Hunter College, they would encourage you to lose your accent in order to pass the oral exam for becoming a teacher. Speaking with a New York accent, or with any accent, could make you fail the oral exam to become a teacher. So my mother was trying to train me not to have an accent. Nevertheless, I have a very strong accent. One of the things my mother very much wanted was to give me piano lessons. That was her dream, but we could not afford a piano.

Religion and Politics

Nebeker:

What about religious training?

Estrin

I did go to temple regularly with her. But being a woman, I didn't have any need for religious training. If I were a boy I would have had a bar mitzvah training.

Nebeker:

There was not a Hebrew school for the girls?

Estrin:

Not then. My best friend, from the time I was seven until sixteen, was the only child of a physician in the neighborhood. We were very good friends, and as we got older we spent most of our days together. I would sometimes go to my mother's temple, but on the holidays when people got dressed elegantly, I would go to my friend's temple where the children were less religious and much more social.

Nebeker:

Were you attracted to religion?

Estrin:

No. I am not religious. As a matter of fact, until we went to Israel, which was somewhat of an accident — we had no connection with Zionism. At that time I was not interested in a divided society, by race or religion. I hoped for the day when everybody would be equal and get along together. When I was in Israel and building the computer I understood the issues more deeply, and for a while was attracted to religion. Jerry comes from a family that was not religious at all, though his parents are from Europe. While we were in Israel, he became very much more identified with being Jewish and the problems of the holocaust for European Jews. Now my three daughters all speak Hebrew. Even the middle daughter, who is married to somebody who is not Jewish, has a branch of her company in Israel. All the children know great Israeli folk dances, and they're more religious than I am.

Nebeker:

Did you learn Yiddish as a child?

Estrin:

I understand simple Yiddish, which my mother used when she spoke with my grandfather. I used it when we were in Israel for shopping and talking to neighbors. When we were in Israel in '54, the ulpan methodology for teaching Hebrew was just being developed, but we had no time. We went to build a computer at the Weizmann Institute where everybody spoke English very well, and we never really learned the language.

Nebeker:

And did you hear Yiddish in your neighborhood as a child?

Estrin:

Possibly, as my neighborhood was almost completely Jewish. During my school days, almost the entire class was Jewish, except for four or five children who went to school on Jewish holidays. Interestingly, about fifteen or twenty years ago an alumni association was formed in LA of Lincoln alumni. And they had a big reception.

Nebeker:

What is Lincoln?

Estrin:

Oh, Abraham Lincoln was the high school I went to. This party was in Bel Air in the home of a wealthy alumnus. Almost a thousand people came to Bel Air for the party. There were two sides for serving refreshments. One side had typically Jewish food, like kosher hotdogs and knishes. The other was Italian, with pizza, and cannoli. I thought that the Italian side was for younger people who had moved to the Lincoln neighborhood, after I had left the neighborhood. Later I realized that in high school each grade had about four classes. One for the brightest students, a second for those who learned more slowly, and two average classes. I was always in the brightest class, and in that class there were mostly Jewish students. I realized this when I was at the IEEE Washington office. A lovely woman, who has since died, worked as a receptionist. Probably from our New York accents, we found out that we both went to Lincoln about the same time. I asked her when she graduated. She said, "Oh, I don't remember when I graduated." Her family was Italian, and for them graduation was not nearly as important as an early marriage for her. There were Italian people in the area, but not living in the up-scale apartment house we did.

Nebeker:

You'd say you had a very close relationship with your mother?

Estrin:

Oh, yes. Until I became a teenager. Then in my last two years in high school, large differences set in. I was in a history class where I was asked to discuss an international event of the day, which I hadn't prepared for. The period before, in my English class, we had a long discussion about the Soviet Union and the Finnish war, and the way Finland felt. The time was 1939. I especially picked up the arguments of the pro-Soviet people and reported on them to the history class. After the talk, the teacher was very surprised at my presentation. A woman in the class came over to me and was very impressed with what I had to say, and gave me a whole bunch of leaflets from the American Student Union. From then on, I became increasingly involved and very active in the American Student Union, which was a left-wing organization and at the time was called a Communist organization. The ASU people became my friends. Partially this must have also happened because my mother was very ill and ASU meetings were probably a way to get out of the house. When my mother was not hospitalized, she was home with cancer and had a lot of pain. She was pretty angry with me during those periods of time as I always returned home later than I should have.

Nebeker:

Those were sort of political meetings that you'd go to?

Estrin:

Yes, but we would do other activities. We would write and pass out leaflets in front of the school, mainly defending the Soviet position on the Soviet-Finnish war. We would support our position in a dogmatic way. The ASU people became my new high school friends. When my mother went to work on the census, we had a long talk. My mother disliked the ASU organization, and so did my father. My father was from the South, and was very prejudiced, though he loved black music and entertainment. I remember when I was five, going to the Apollo — or some big theater. A black comedian on the stage said, "Does anybody have a dollar bill?" And my father walks up and gives the man a hundred dollar bill. He cuts the bill and puts it in a lemon. After some talk and jokes the hundred dollar bill finally emerges. My father liked that sort of entertainment. He was very flashy and he loved sports.

Nebeker:

You said that your father was often away traveling?

Estrin:

Yes. He traveled during the week. He would always write me letters, bring me extravagant presents, and take me to fun places. As I got older, I was annoyed at his reactionary points of view, steeped in the prejudice of the time. I was his darling, but he also hated the ASU movement.

Nebeker:

Did he encourage you to go to college and to plan for a career?

Estrin:

Not really. That was my mother's doing. My mother always took care of things at home. If the curtains fell down, she'd put them back up. He did bring in whatever money there was, but she made the arrangements and did all the housework and completely took care of me.

Education

Nebeker:

How about schooling? Were you interested in math and science as a child?

Estrin:

Yes. I was always good in math. When I was about sixteen, I had a boyfriend who was four years older than I at the time. His name was Richard Bellman. He was an outstanding mathematician and won the IEEE Medal of Honor in the early '80s. Richard was head of the math team at Brooklyn College, and he influenced me to take an extra class, trigonometry. I saw a lot of him, when I was fifteen and sixteen. He was a bit ashamed of my younger age as he was a senior in college when I was a senior in high school. When I became involved with my new ASU friends and politics, our friendship ended as he was more right wing. I met Jerry in the summer of '41 and we were married in December '41. During the same period, Richard Bellman got married, and many people in the neighborhood thought we had married each other. Years later I met Dick Bellman; who was spending a year in Princeton, with his family. I invited him and his wife to a party that Jerry and I were having for friends at the Institute for Advanced Study.

Nebeker:

This was then in the early 'fifties?

Estrin:

This was then in the early 'fifties, like '51, '52. That was the beginning of the McCarthy period and everybody was attacking everybody else. All the people at the Institute were pretty liberal and in favor of Dirk Struik, a mathematician who was under attack at MIT. They had a big argument with Bellman who did not support Struik. I met Bellman again in the early sixties in California where he worked at Rand. When I joined the BRI in 1960 I invited him to our BRI conference on computers in brain research, and he also came to talk to the neurophysiologists about mathematics as a tool for their research. We became friendly and would invite each other to parties we held. In the seventies, Dick divorced his wife and though I met his second wife, we didn't see other. I then learned that Dick had a brain operation, which he wasn't recovering from very quickly. He was pretty incapacitated physically, though as alert as ever mentally. I learned from his daughter that he did not want to see anybody that he hadn't seen before his illness, until his physical condition improved. Then he died, I'd say in '82 or '83 because somebody from USC, George Becky; called and asked if I would speak at his service. I was at NSF in Washington, and was committed to talk at several meetings and couldn't return to LA. The final part of the story is that I know his daughter who's a wonderful woman. She received a Ph.D. in neuroscience at UC San Diego, and then she came to work at UCLA. She now works at the Aerospace Corporation. I'm very fond of her.

Nebeker:

Did knowing him encourage you to take another year of mathematics?

Estrin:

Yes, that's right.

Nebeker:

You said that you had thought of becoming a lawyer.

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And that was still your thought there?

City College and World War II

Estrin:

The father of my best childhood friend, Dr. Berman, who was a physician and came from a well-established family, advised me. He thought I should attend City College and major in Spanish and become a commercial secretary, fluent in two languages. At that time I never thought of my mother's choice of law school, or the lawyers and judges she had met when she was active in the Democratic Party. Law school attendance was almost unheard of for a woman. I was just planning to attend college, and chose City College of New York (CCNY). That's where I met Jerry. Perhaps, but I met Jerry, got married, and the Second World War arrived. I was going to City College School of Business and Management, in downtown NYC. City College, uptown, which was primarily an engineering college, did not allow women at that time. I knew nothing about engineering, and never even knew an engineer. I went downtown for two reasons. At that time they only accepted seventy-five women a semester, and it was difficult to be chosen. The next reason was that my mother was gravely ill and about to die.

Nebeker:

He was several years older?

Estrin:

He was two and a half years older and was a senior at CCNY. I met him several months after I had enrolled as a freshman, and I was trying to sell him an American Student Union button. After several months we decided to be married on December 21st, and made wedding plans for that date. Then on December 7th our entry into the war took place. This was followed by most young men being drafted and women began to take their place in factories and offices.

After the War I went to City College Uptown, which had begun to enroll women. I enrolled for an engineering degree and took drafting. Where most students would work for a half hour, I would work three times as long. I did and finally gained a perception of the subject. About a year later I took a three month course, at Stevens Institute of Technology for engineering assistants. There were three parts to the course. One was basic math and physics taught together as a unit. Then there was a drafting course and a foundry course. I did terribly in the drafting course, as I have no natural aptitude for spatial visualization, and had never thought about three dimensional space. As a matter of fact, before I took the Steven's course, I went to a placement center and was given several exams. The person who gave me the results of the test said they had never tested anybody who had done so well in the verbal and done so poorly in the spatial visualization. She didn't think I should go into an engineering assistant course, but I did anyway. The drafting was very difficult for me at Stevens, but I was superior in the two other courses.

Nebeker:

When you say the war came, do you mean —

Estrin:

The Second World War.

Nebeker:

— the war came to the United States?

Estrin:

Yes, in 1941.

Nebeker:

December 1941?

Estrin:

Yes, in December '41. We were married December 21st, and many people thought that we got married so Jerry wouldn't be drafted. But we had this wedding planned for several months.

Nebeker:

I see. So married men were at that point deferred.

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

I see.

Estrin:

Anyhow, Jerry was still too young. He was not yet 21, and he later enlisted

Nebeker:

So you entered City College in the fall of '41 and were taking Spanish?

Estrin:

Yes, I took Spanish and history and another course or two.

Nebeker:

Now I know you wrote that both you and Jerry were history majors in college.

Estrin:

Yes. But I never did much with it. Jerry had taken a lot of American history courses. He was going to be a history major, and then switched to accounting, I imagine for job placement reasons. Jerry wanted to be a statistician or an engineer, but it was well known that Jews were not receiving employment in large corporations. I was just at CCNY for one year.

Nebeker:

What was Jerry's plan for a career? Or did it change?

Estrin:

When I met Jerry, he was working at the New York Times. He was a copy boy. No, he was one step above that. He was a photo assistant in the library at the New York Times. But when he got into the Army, he was good in mathematics and was placed in the signal corps. And I took the war training course we've discussed.

Nebeker:

And that was because you wanted to do war work?

Estrin:

Yes, there was a big drive to get women into war work.

Nebeker:

And that would prepare you for what sort of work?

Estrin:

From the spread of courses in the three months, I guess to acquaint you with various types of technical work. After the course I went to work at Radio Receptor Company.

Nebeker:

Does that mean that you stopped your classes?

Estrin:

Yes, I stopped.

Nebeker:

And Radio Receptor — is that the name of the company?

Estrin:

Yes. They made electronic test and measuring equipment.

Nebeker:

For the military?

Estrin:

For the military.

Nebeker:

Okay, so you went to Stevens. You probably completed the first year —

Estrin:

Yes, I attended Stevens from January to April 1943. I may have dropped out of college. Because I remember getting a job in a sewing machine company for five dollars a week for a few months. Then I recall being a telephone operator for a very famous jewelry company in New York. But I was quickly fired because I have a very high-pitched voice. Then I went to work at Lane Bryant Department Store, claiming I could type. We had a typewriter at home that my father had bought for me when I was very young. I learned to type very quickly, but had to look at the keyboard. Academic students in high school never took typing, and so I never learned to touch type. If you listen to me type, it sounds very fast. I had memorized the short paragraph the Lane Bryant manager had given me and typed it quickly. I was put in the purchasing office, assigned to bill payments. The typewriter keys had nothing on them, except for some special symbols needed for account payment. The only named keys were those special symbols. There I was. I was supposed to type because the woman listened to me, and checked my work, but I couldn't touch-type and could not use a blank keyboard. The people liked me, and let me be the mail clerk. I worked there until I went to Stevens.

I went to several stores in San Bernardino looking for a sales position. I couldn't decide between a job in Woolworth's or working in an elegant shoe store. My father had been in the shoe business. Not in the retail shoe business but in the wholesale end, and I pretended I knew how to sell shoes. I didn't ask for the salary at that time, but I thought I'd probably make more money in the shoe store. The first day of work in the store, I asked what I would be earning. The manager replied, "You don't make anything. You work on commissions."

About a month later Jerry was transferred to Salt Lake City for overseas assignment, and I returned to NYC and went to City College Uptown, for a semester, in engineering. By the end of the war women were finally accepted. I took descriptive geometry and worked very hard on my three dimensional visualizations. VJ day occurred about three months later, and Jerry was released from the Air Force.

Nebeker:

So you completed your bachelor's there at City College?

Estrin:

No. I completed a semester as a freshman in engineering, and I had a freshman year at City College School of Business Administration. We wanted to leave New York City for a while, and wanted to go to Cornell. But they were flooded with men on the GI Bill. We had a good friend who was at the University of Wisconsin, and she quickly sent us applications, and we were accepted there for the winter term in 1946. When I went to Wisconsin, I was a sophomore.

Nebeker:

I see.

Estrin:

When Jerry went to Wisconsin he had been a senior in history, but he also became a sophomore in electrical engineering, having been given credit for all his humanities courses. When we entered Wisconsin they had three semesters a year to accommodate the GIs. We did outstandingly well, and worked very hard, night and day.

Nebeker:

By that time, because of your wartime work, you'd decided you wanted to go into engineering?

Estrin:

Oh, yes. From my days at the Radio Receptor model shop, I thought I was going to become a tool and dye maker. Then I realized that I could never be a tool and dye maker. Aside from the female angle, I'm just too impatient for that type of work. After I was transferred to the Radio Receptor laboratory I decided to become an electrical engineer. Many of my male friends at Radio Receptor were electrical engineers, and my female friends were draftswomen- which was not a vocation for me. Jerry liked his radio training in the signal corps and decided to also major in EE.

Radio Receptor Company

Nebeker:

Could I ask about your work at Radio Receptor, what you were doing most of the time?

Estrin:

Well, the major time I worked in the model shop. In the model shop I was a beginning machinist. I would use the lathe, the surface grinder, the milling machine, to cut to rough dimensions the parts that the model makers were then going to use. In the laboratory I was assembling test equipment and helping to repair instruments, under an engineer or technician's supervision. I was learning to be a junior electronic technician. I was soldering and building circuits following a circuit diagram. Or I would test resistors and capacitors to obtain those nearest to their given value. This was a lab, and I began as an electronic technician's helper. I would have become a technician, if I had stayed longer and not left to join Jerry.

Nebeker:

Were there a lot of women working for Radio Receptor?

Estrin:

All the other women were draftswomen, or manufacturing workers. I had a couple of friends, but they were draftswomen. I was certainly the only woman in the tool and model shop. I got quite an education in the tool and model shop with the guys.

Nebeker:

Was it a pleasant atmosphere?

Estrin:

Yes, it was pleasant. But I was shocked at what these men did sexually, though they were married and had children. There were about four of them, and each had dates with various women on one night of the week. I still remember the head of the shop, a very handsome man of about thirty-five. I worked directly for him. They were all nice to me. It was obvious I was not going to get involved with them in any sexual way. We were good friends, and I was their little helper, and did machine parts for them, and swept up their steel shavings.

Nebeker:

So somewhere in the winter of '46, you moved out to Wisconsin. Is that right?

Estrin:

Yes. We moved out to Wisconsin in the beginning of '46, to major in electrical engineering.

Nebeker:

And Jerry had the G.I. Bill probably to go to school on?

Estrin:

Yes. That's right.

Nebeker:

And you were able to survive financially with your going to school as well?

Estrin:

Well, yes. My father died about ten months after my mother. He was very overweight and not well. My mother insisted that he pay his insurance policy, but after she died, he let his policy drop and invested in the stock market. But he didn't leave any money at all. My mother had a very beautiful large diamond engagement ring. When we went to Wisconsin, I sold the diamond ring, and that helped us a lot.

Nebeker:

I see.

Montgomery, Alabama

Estrin:

When I began work at Radio Receptor I worked in the model shop. The chief model-maker taught me to use machinery equipment such as lathes, surface grinders, and milling machines. After a year I transferred to the laboratory and wired and assembled test equipment and instruments. I believe they made instruments for radio repair. At the beginning of 1945 I joined Jerry who was in the army stationed in Montgomery, Alabama.

Nebeker:

When did he enter the Army?

Estrin:

In '43. When he became twenty-one.

Nebeker:

And he chose some kind of radio technician — ?

Estrin:

Well, that's what they assigned him to, probably because he had worked at Kurman Electric Company for a year, and he was also good in math. When I joined him, because of my Radio Receptor experience, I was hired as a radio mechanic's helper.

Nebeker:

Where were you working?

Estrin:

In Montgomery, Alabama at the air force base. Now that was an interesting experience. The woman whose house we lived in had never seen a Jewish person with blonde hair. Jerry had blonde hair.

Nebeker:

Were they much prejudiced there against Jews?

Estrin:

The woman was not overtly prejudiced. She just had never seen a blonde Jew; she was uneducated in her opinions. We've had prejudice in a couple of places, particularly in Wisconsin, where we were students. We had difficulty getting an apartment there. Jerry could get one, but when I came along, they'd think I was Italian or Jewish and didn't want to rent us an apartment. After several months in Alabama, Jerry was transferred to San Bernardino. I resigned from my Montgomery job and went to San Bernardino, on a troop train with Jerry. Another woman and I were the only two females on the train, but the conductors let us go along. In San Bernardino I became a junior radio repair person at $1.97 an hour.

Nebeker:

So let me see if I have this wartime period straight. So you had several jobs right after you were married? Then you got this three-month intensive training. And then you went right to work for Radio Receptor for a couple of years?

Estrin:

Right.

Nebeker:

Was Jerry in New York in that period?

Estrin:

No, he was in the Army Air Force, from the beginning of 1943.

Nebeker:

And then in '45 you...

Estrin:

I decided to join him. I probably thought he was going to go overseas. He was in Montgomery, and I hated to leave New York. I couldn't believe that anyplace existed outside of New York City. Anyhow, we went to Montgomery, and then we went to San Bernardino where I worked for several months until the war ended and VE day was declared. The war ended in August of '45, and most women employees of the Air Force were laid off immediately. We had been spending all the money I was earning by going to LA and Hollywood for the weekends. I was suddenly out of a job and without funds.

Anti-Semitism in San Bernardino and Wisconsin

Estrin:

Yes. There were a group of people there who were very pro-German, and pro Nazi. A couple of their children were in the engineering school, and they blacklisted me. Tau Beta Pi is an honorary fraternity, and if one or two people were against you, that's what could happen. Well, the war had ended, and a lot of women who'd been working at the San Bernardino Air Force Base for a long time must have received a large amount of cash. Many came to the shoe store to buy very expensive shoes. Before I knew it, I was making over a hundred fifty dollars a week in commissions. I didn't even do as I was instructed, which was to get the woman to sit down and take off her shoe before responding to her questions. If a woman would ask me a question, I'd just answer the question. Anyhow I sold more shoes than anybody else. As I look at it now, I realize that many women probably felt better being waited on by a woman in the shoe store. Looking at the situation today, it occurs to me that being a woman also played a significant part in my rejection in Tau Beta Pi.

When I taught at Wisconsin in my first semester as a graduate student, a number of people commented about my New York accent. They might comment "She's a good teacher, but her New York accent..." When I think about it today, I realize it was the woman part that they found strange. Actually the students in my class didn't ever believe I was going to do anything with engineering. They either thought that Jerry was keeping me in school to keep me out of trouble or to help him with his homework. The fact is, we rarely work together because we're very different. Jerry frequently worked with two friends of his, and I worked by myself. In my power machinery course, my professor-his name was Watson, said to me, "It's okay. You can be in my class. I love having you. You're very smart. But you have to promise me when you leave school you must have three children to keep up the birth rate." And I did.

University of Wisconsin

Nebeker:

When was your first daughter born?

Estrin:

When I was twenty-nine, after I was married for eleven years.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see. So that wasn't until '52 or — ?

Estrin:

She was born in early '53.

Nebeker:

In '53. Okay. So you got your bachelor's degree in '48, I guess?

Estrin:

Yes. And then our good friend, Jerry Cohen, was going on for a Ph.D. He liked school. We all liked school. So we decided we were going to stay on too. Prior to that we hadn't really heard of a Ph.D. in engineering.

Nebeker:

You were planning on a career as an electrical engineer?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You would get a bachelor's degree and get a job then?

Estrin:

That's right. But instead we liked studying, we liked school, and we wanted to learn more. New things were happening in the EE department. Two new professors, Higgins and Rideout, joined the department to teach new subjects. A new brand of engineering education was emerging.

Nebeker:

There was a separate engineering school at Wisconsin?

Estrin:

Yes, but prior to 1950, very few professors in engineering schools had advanced degrees.

Nebeker:

I know also in the 'thirties, beginning in the 'thirties anyway, there were major changes in the EE curriculum as electronics got to be in the curriculum more. And earlier this orientation toward power engineering —

Estrin:

Yes. And then there was another big change after the Second World War. For in 1946 the advances in radar, control theory and high frequency communications — all made during the war — were beginning to enter the curriculum.

Nebeker:

So microwave technology was —

Estrin:

That all came in '46

Nebeker:

Right.

Estrin:

And Jerry went into microwave theory for his Ph.D. In the 'thirties there probably was a change from power to electronics as radio become very popular After our first year the university labs were bursting with GI students. Since we began as sophomores we were a year ahead of everybody else. I got a job in the physics lab as an assistant for evening laboratories. That gave us additional funds and Jerry's mother would also send us some money on our birthdays, and anniversaries. Actually the man who hired me at Wisconsin was Professor Ingersoll, Chairman of the Physics Department. Interestingly, he had a son who then became my civil engineering instructor. The son was at that time, a postdoc and then went on to become the dean at USC in engineering. After a number of years he was replaced, and became head of the Engineering Division for UCLA Engineering Extension, which is a position I finally held.

Nebeker:

And did Jerry also finish in '48, his bachelor's?

Estrin:

Yes, he finished his bachelor's. But he got a research fellowship, and I did not get a research fellowship. They didn't give me a research fellowship because they didn't think I was going to continue in engineering. They pointed to women physicians who took up space and never practiced medicine. I knew I was going to continue. There were very few research fellowships and I had good grades and deserved one. But interestingly, times were so different that I believed the engineering administration.

Nebeker:

But your grades and so on were as good?

Estrin:

Almost. Jerry had A's in everything he ever took, except for one B in advanced drafting. He was in the hospital with an infected foot, but he got permission to leave and take the exam. I also had mostly A's and a few B's. The grades were fine. That was not the issue. The issue was that there were too few fellowships for the number of people deserving them, and they had to predict future use by the recipients. I claimed, "I'm going to continue." And they'd reply, "Oh, you think you will, but you won't." I therefore was given a teaching fellowship.

Nebeker:

I see. But you believed yourself that you would continue in engineering?

Estrin:

Oh, yes. There wasn't any question to me that I was going to continue. I wasn't into thinking about children at all. When I decided to have a child, we lived in Princeton. I periodically had a pain in my abdomen, and the physician said, "Oh, you may have endometriosis. You're married such a long time, you know, you might have a hard time having a child." I was married eleven years and still at twenty eight was not prepared for having a child. But I became pregnant immediately after that doctor visit, but I was still planning to work. There was no question about that.

Doctoral Work

Nebeker:

So in '48 you both started working on your doctorates?

Estrin:

Yes, we received our master's. Then Jerry went on and got his Ph.D. I got mine about ten months later, because my teaching fellowship delayed me.

Nebeker:

Were there a lot of new people in the engineering school?

Estrin:

Yes, several. Professor Rideout, who came from Bell Laboratories, became Jerry's professor. I went with Professor Higgins, who had a Ph.D. and was an analytical engineer, because I realized Jerry was going to finish ahead of me because of my teaching. Higgins was into analytical work, and I wouldn't require experimental equipment if I worked with him.

Nebeker:

How was the teaching? How was that for you? You were teaching as a teaching assistant?

Estrin:

Well, I taught a beginning A.C. circuits class, but mostly I was in the lab, taught some power labs and circuits labs.

Nebeker:

Jerry was already in?

Estrin:

Jerry was in. It turned out there had been a group of students who lived in Baraboo, Wisconsin.

Nebeker:

Were you teaching throughout your graduate years there?

Estrin:

Yes, I think I was. We completed our work very, very quickly. We received our master's in a year. And then we got our Ph.Ds two years after that. After Jerry finished his Ph.D. in the late summer of '50, we went to the Institute for Advanced Study. I took my work with me and finished it in Princeton in August of '51.

Nebekler:

And then you worked with T.J. Higgins?

Estrin:

Yes. I worked with Laplace transforms for two variables, setting up a new system of usage.

Nebeker:

I saw that in the first publication list here on your CV.

Estrin:

What does it say?

Nebeker:

"Solution of Boundary-Value Problems with Multiple Laplace Transformations."

Estrin:

Then I switched to a numerical method for finding the capacitance of annual rings, which I worked on for my Ph.D. The year I was in Princeton, I received a fellowship to work on my thesis from the Association of Academic Women. I have my thesis proposal AAW, I can't locate the thesis. In moving, last year, I've misplaced many items. In doing my thesis, I used a differential analyzer at IBM Laboratories at Columbia University to solve sets of equations. I had a whole series of differential equations that I had to solve.

Nebeker:

So this is what might be called applied mathematics or computation?

Estrin:

It could be called computational modeling.

Nebeker:

How did that thesis work go?

Estrin:

I went back to Wisconsin twice. Once in the middle, and finally when I completed it. It was fine. Higgins was very concerned about the language you use to express your work. It was good working with him. He was very nice and very supportive. He publishes many papers. If I were not married and didn't realize that I would be leaving, that thesis topic would not have been my first choice. But it was an OK choice. The interesting thing about Higgins is that he would take a new area and work on it for presentation as a new course. Or he would take a new book, use it in his class, collect all the criticisms from the class, send corrections back to the publisher, and get the book corrected. He was always moving into new areas. If I had come along a year later, I would be in automatic control, which became Higgin's new field. This field would have been more useful for me, with many areas of applications. My thesis was a computational solution to an electromagnetic problem. It was theoretical.

Nebeker:

But I gather you were attracted to that type of EE since you presumably chose to go to Higgins as a Ph.D. student.

Estrin:

Well, yes. But I mainly chose to go to Higgins because I knew that he was analytical. Jerry's microwave thesis required much experimentation. I knew that Jerry would finish earlier and we would probably move, and I would have to leave experimental work. Automatic control has many theoretical aspects, especially when it was an emerging field.

Nebeker:

I see. So that wouldn't have worked out. But can one say that you were more interested in the theoretical side rather than the hardware, experimental side?

Estrin:

When I worked at Columbia University Medical School I was concerned with hardware. I am concerned with hardware to solve a specific problem, where no hardware exists. I was at the Neurological Institute at Columbia and was investigating EEG frequency analysis — I'm more interested in the systems side. I really consider myself a systems engineer. At the Brain Research Institute, I purchased an analog-to-digital conversion system for analog brain waves recorded from the surface of the head. Probably the first place this was done in the country, Airborne Instrument Company designed the circuitry of the a-d system, but I laid down the system specifications from the requirements of the neurophysiologists.

Nebeker:

Your master's thesis was also with Higgins?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You got a fellowship for the final year of dissertation?

Estrin:

Right.

Nebeker:

The Ellen Sabin Fellowship?

Estrin:

Yes, Ellen C. Sabin Fellowship.

Nebeker:

Now it looks like both of the theses are very much analytic mathematics, but at least with the doctoral one also a good deal of maybe numerical —

Estrin:

Numerical analysis? Yes.

Nebeker:

You mention here in the acknowledgement the use of RCA's simultaneous equation solver. Was that the one you used to do ten equations — ten linear equations?

Estrin:

I went to Columbia where IBM had a large laboratory with Columbia scientists. Perhaps I used RCA in error.

Nebeker:

So you would work the problem into a form that it was just calculable by means of something that existed — either that RCA machine or...

Estrin:

And then changed the diameters of the circumference and got solutions in terms of universal curves.

Nebeker:

It seems that a lot of engineering work, say a generation ago, was that sort of figuring out how to get answers. The theory existed, but actually being able to calculate it.

Estrin:

To get an approximate solution, by computation, for all these problems that you couldn't solve analytically.

Nebeker:

Right. You thank also Mrs. Fry.

Estrin:

She's the woman who helped me to prepare the equations for calculation, which involved a lot of numerical work.

Princeton

Nebeker:

Okay, so in June of '50 your husband and you were invited to Princeton for interviews.

Estrin:

We were both invited. I believe that they wanted me to see Princeton.

Nebeker:

You don't recall being considered?

Estrin:

Perhaps, but I was hired for about three or four months during the summer. They might have considered me, but I had my thesis to complete.

Nebeker:

Of '51, is that right?

Estrin:

No, in '50.

Nebeker:

Of '50. Well, let's see. It says here that "...a letter arrived shortly after I returned to Madison offering us positions as research engineers." Apparently both of you. "The computer project was behind schedule, and we agreed to start work at the Institute in July." That's July of '50. So maybe it was that summer you worked several months.

Estrin:

Right. I worked at the Institute and did some work on my thesis at night. I worked for about three or four months. They had put the main frame of the machine together, and I was verifying the diagrams with the wiring of the main frame. Now people have asked me why didn't I get a job in Princeton. I think I wanted to finish my thesis. After that, I believe that I didn't want to work in the same location as Jerry. I really tried to get a job at RCA, but didn't.

Nebeker:

Right. Yes. Well, the fellowship that you received was for '50-'51. I assume that's the academic year '50-'51. So you worked that summer at the Institute.

Estrin:

That's right.

Nebeker:

Then you worked full time on your thesis.

Estrin:

Yes, on my thesis.

Nebeker:

And you completed that.

Estrin:

In August of '51.

Nebeker:

Right. And you were in Princeton pretty much all that time?

Estrin:

Yes I went back once in the middle, and then on completion. I was typing my final copy in the back of the car as we drove to the mid west.

Nebeker:

Okay. So you completed the degree the following summer. Well, do you have more to say about that two-month period or whatever it was that you were working at the Institute?

Estrin:

I was there for about four months. I think I worked there through October, because I worked the following summer on my thesis. It was very interesting. I worked with a man Charlie Smith who has since died who was in the Office of Naval Research. I do know the Office of Naval Research was supporting the project. IBM people kept coming almost weekly to look at the machine's development. It was a very interesting environment.

Nebeker:

That was right about the time that the machine was up and running, wasn't it?

Estrin:

Just the central processing unit, but not the input-output, which is what Jerry worked on when he arrived.

Nebeker:

And you moved into Institute housing you told me.

Estrin:

Right.

Nebeker:

And that was in July of '50 I assume?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

When you moved straight out into Institute housing. You said last night that you liked that atmosphere.

Von Neumann, Bigelow, Charney

Estrin:

We loved it. It was our first experience in living with an international group of people, which was great. And then the von Neumanns were very friendly. We also became very good friends with the Bigelows and the Charneys who were close friends of the von Neumanns. We were always going out to dinner or to parties.

Nebeker:

Can you tell me a little about von Neumann?

Estrin:

He was very interested in my work at the Neurological Institute in New York. And I remember telling him all kinds of stories. One I recall was the first time I was ever in the neurological surgery operating room. We were recording the EEG of a person who was having brain surgery. We had electrodes monitored by the EEG recorder, and there was a tremendous amount of noise in the recording, and no EEG was present.

Nebeker:

Were these implanted electrodes or surface?

Estrin:

They were surface that was on the exposed brain, held with a little glue, like a paste. This was a surgical operation and the brain was exposed, and there was a tremendous amount of noise. I had no idea where the noise was coming from. The EEG technician could not help, and I finally had enough nerve to go closer to the patient and find out that he was not really grounded. I grounded the patient, and the operation proceeded. He was just very interested in my whole experience at the Neurological Institute.

Nebeker:

Is that typical of von Neumann that he was very interested in other people and what they were doing?

Estrin:

No. He was very interested in the brain, and its relation to computers. The man I worked for, whose name was Hoeffer, was German. He was the head of the EEG labs. But you could tell he never really knew how to deal with a patient. He was very theoretical, and would primarily "read" the EEG. Even then, what he did seemed robotic to me. And then I went to work for Molly Brazier who became very famous as an EEGer. One of the things I wanted to do was to automate the reading of EEGs. When expert systems first evolved I wanted a graduate student to work on an expert system to read the EEG. I know that I'm switching topics. My EEG reading by computer fell flat, because the bio-medical engineering community at UCLA never really developed.

Nebeker:

Was this at the time that von Neumann was writing the book The Computer of the Brain?

Estrin:

Yes. He did this small book after he gave the Sillman Lectures at Princeton. He was always fascinated with the brains of living specimens. We'd probably go out to dinner with them in a small group, once a week. Mrs. Charney, who had been a philosophy major, adored Johnny, and they would talk for hours about philosophical ideas.

Nebeker:

Did von Neumann impress you as an outstanding intellect?

Estrin:

He was brilliant and it was obvious immediately. The only disagreement most people at the Institute had with him was that he was very conservative. We never really discussed politics very much with him. He would compete with the little neon computer lights that were on the central processing unit. He was trying to calculate faster than the neon lights, which would display the answer. He was a genius.

Nebeker:

I think I've heard something about these large parties he would hold.

Estrin:

Yes. He and Klare held them at their home. We were very good friends with Klari. After Johhnie died, and Klari came to San Diego, we still went down to visit her often. When Johnnie was ill in the hospital, with cancer of the brain, Bigelow would go two or three times a week to see Johnnie and talk with him.

Nebeker:

You were close to the Bigelows?

Estrin:

Yes, very close to the Bigelows.

Nebeker:

You said that his style of engineering was that he'd see how to do something better and want to keep making improvements all the time.

Estrin:

Which is typical of a creative engineer. I remember being on a committee, talking to a VP from General Electric about nuclear magnetic resonance machines. Perhaps twelve years ago. He was relating how GE took the most creative engineer off the project, to finally get the NMR machine into production and beat the competition. Once you get past that creativity, you're going into product development. Bigelow was a wonderful creator, inventor and engineer, but he should not have been responsible for the final product development. The IAS computer was only one machine, though it was copied in many places.

Nebeker:

Was that part of the conflict between Bigelow and Goldstine?

Estrin:

Goldstine was in charge of the entire project; many scientists were waiting to get their problems on the computer, and the IAS funding sources were waiting for a completed date. Goldstine couldn't rely on Julian for completion dates, and then Goldstine was held responsible for the delays.

Nebeker:

You started to mention the Charneys whom you also knew well. He was a young Ph.D. He'd gotten his Ph.D. maybe five years earlier or something like that. He was at UCLA.

Estrin:

That's where he met Eleanor, his wife.

Nebeker:

I know he spent some time at Chicago.

Estrin:

He may have done post-graduate work at the University of Chicago.

Nebeker:

I'm not sure. I can't remember now. But somewhere in '47, '48, he came to the Institute and took over the meteorological part of the project. What are your memories of Charney?

Estrin:

Oh, we loved him. He was a great guy. He was warm and friendly and loved parties and was always the last one to go home.

Nebeker:

Did you go out to dinner with them?

Estrin:

Yes, a lot. We were very close. Whenever he came to LA, to visit his mother, he'd always come for dinner. He loved lamb chops and rye bread with caraway seeds on it.

Nebeker:

He was from the Los Angeles area, is that right?

Estrin:

Yes, he's from Los Angeles. His mother lived until she was about ninety, and we were shocked when he had cancer and died. He has a daughter who lives in Boston and a son who was a hyperactive child. He was the stepfather of his oldest son, and we were sad when he divorced Elinor, his first wife. But they argued a lot.

Nebeker:

You mentioned last night that everyone was working hard there at the Institute. Long hours.

Estrin:

Yes. But they also partied a lot, too. They would work till eight or nine o'clock. Go out to dinner for two hours and then go back to work again until the middle of the night. Sometimes they would work all night and just get a few hours of sleep.

Nebeker:

All the people who were working on the project were living right there?

Estrin:

Yes. They worked hard but we would often have a party on Saturday night or when someone had a birthday.

Nebeker:

Was it to your husband's liking, the pace of work at the Institute?

Estrin:

Yes. We're both workaholics.

Job Search

Nebeker:

Okay, so the summer of '51, you completed your degree, and you didn't seek employment at the Institute at that point?

Estrin:

No. Perhaps the computer was getting done. But probably I didn't want to work with Jerry in the same location. I tried to get employment at RCA and Jan Rajchman interviewed me.

Nebker:

I know the name.

Estrin:

He gave me a very rough interview, and I guess I didn't pass because I never got a position. I've since met people who've told me Rajchman gives everybody very rough interviews. But what RCA personnel told me was — and this is funny — "that they didn't have a ladies' room for me at the time." And I said, "Well, what about the ladies' room that the secretaries use?" "Well no, that wouldn't be proper." Anyhow, I did not get the job at RCA, which was the only place in the Princeton area where I could use my engineering training.

I had two friends who worked for Professor Grundfest in the neurology department of the Columbia Medical Center in New York City. They were engineers in electrophysiological research. They were very interested in measuring the action potentials along the nerve fiber. At that time, these friends told me about a job at the Neurological Institute. I was hired as a research assistant in the Columbia department of neurology, but I worked at the Neurological Institute.

Columbia University: Neurological Institute

Nebeker:

Is that part of Columbia, the Neurological Institute?

Estrin:

Yes. It's part of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, which is a huge complex, including the Neurological Institute.

Nebeker:

And that started in the fall of '51.

Estrin:

Yes, on November 8, 1951. To go back in time: In searching my records I found this telegram. In June 1950, when Jerry graduated, we were both offered jobs, by telegram, at Bell Aircraft for $5000 each per year. Jerry had began to interview at the Institute for Advanced Study, which seemed like a more interesting position. Though we had never heard of a high-speed digital electronic calculator before.

Nebeker:

So the Bell position was offered to you even though you weren't finished?

Estrin:

Well, I was supposed to get my Ph.D. .

Nebeker:

I see. When you received that, did it seem like something you might take?

Estrin:

Well, yes and no. We were considering it but Jerry was already supposed to go to the Institute for Advanced Study. Probably if the telegrams had come first, we might have gone to be interviewed. Their work fit right in with Jerry's work on microwave electronics, and that's what they wanted.

Nebeker:

I see.

Estrin:

But the Institute appointment seemed very attractive.

Nebeker:

Were you members of the ASU at Wisconsin?

Estrin:

We were probably members, and had friends who were involved. But we really worked very hard on our subjects. We got through engineering school in about two years - in six semesters. It was just very rough, and we were always studying or doing homework. We really did little else.

Nebeker:

Okay. So in the late summer of '51 you didn't get work at RCA and then learned of this possible work at Columbia.

Estrin:

I started in November 1951 and I worked there until the day my oldest daughter was born in February 1953. I was a research assistant in neurology.

Nebeker:

And you were commuting by train into New York?

Estrin:

Yes, by train.

Nebeker:

I've done that commute, too.

Estrin:

Three trains.

Nebeker:

Did you have interest in neurophysiology or anything related to that before this job opportunity came up?

Estrin:

No, not really. I read George Orwell's book 1984 in 1948. I was always interested in the whole topic of technology and society. Whether automation was going to be good for people or bad. I also heard a lecture on electroencephalography at Wisconsin. But it was essentially when I went to Columbia that I got interested in brain research.

Nebeker:

And that was partly a research position and partly taking care of equipment?

Estrin:

Yes, responsibility for managing the equipment. It was a research position, but the job also was to be responsible for six or eight EEG machines, and for supervising a few technicians.

Nebeker:

Was that very demanding EE? I mean, taking care of that equipment?

Estrin:

No, it wasn't after I read the manuals. The demanding part was the research side. First, to redesign a frequency analyzer to examine EEGs more quickly and more accurately. That's what I worked hardest to accomplish. Then to be a team-player with neurologists and help design experiments to study the EEG and EMG phenomenon.

Nebeker:

They had already built some kind of frequency analyzer?

Estrin:

Yes, they had a machine.

Nebeker:

You said you took Bob Schonfeld's position there?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

So they had built a frequency analyzer and it wasn't working?

Estrin:

No. It's sometimes very difficult to get analog equipment to work reliably. I tried and then redesigned the machine.

Nebeker:

And that was a question of circuit design?

Estrin:

Yes. Improving the circuit design of the equipment, and finding what was wrong with it. And also understanding the signals that were coming in and how to analyze them and display the results. That was my major activity. The management of equipment and technicians took about an hour or two a day. When we went to the recording room for special surgery, an EEG technician would go down to the operating room with equipment. I also went and was responsible for the system, and that it would record properly.

Nebeker:

It was important to have EEGs throughout the...

Estrin:

Right. The EEGs were part of a research project to record from the lobe of the brain the operation was being performed on.

Nebeker:

Oh, I see. This was for research purposes, not for treatment.

Estrin:

Yes, it was for research that did not interfere in any way with the operation for treatment.

Nebeker:

I see. And how did you like the work environment there?

Estrin:

It was interesting. I began to think at that time whether neuroelectric signals could be digitized for greater accuracy and analyzed by a computer. Because digital techniques are just much simpler and don't vacillate. They either do something for you or they don't do something for you. Whenever you use analog techniques, you have to calibrate them and there are always variations.

Nebeker:

I remember seeing some advertising from the mid-fifties for digital instruments. It seemed to be the new wave. But was it because of the greater reliability of digital?

Estrin:

Oh, yes. Much more reliable and stable. You couldn't do that with analog equipment.

Nebeker:

Did that go anywhere at that point at Columbia?

Estrin:

No. I left after my daughter was born.

Julian Bigelow's wife, Mary, was writing her thesis to get a Ph.D. in psychology. Eleanor Charney was supposedly writing a thesis to get a degree in linguistics or philosophy. And then I came along and did write my Ph.D. thesis. They did not. We were all friends. Mary practiced psychology and did a lot of psychological therapy with patients. Eleanor was quite a charming lady and had three children. She read and studied a lot.

Nebeker:

You knew Oppenheimer you said.

Estrin:

Yes, but at a different level. The computer people were really our friends. Oppenheimer we knew, and he was friendly.

Nebeker:

But you didn't go out to dinner with him.

Estrin:

No, but he had cocktail party that everybody went to.

Israel

Nebeker:

Your first daughter was born in February of '53.

Estrin:

In Princeton.

Nebeker:

Right. In Princeton. Did you work?

Estrin:

No, because we knew we would leave for Israel in about six months. A physicist came to the Institute from Israel, a man by the name of Ephraim Fry. He came to learn about the computer, and to build one in Israel. We became friends, and his wife, who was a chemist, helped me with the numerical work on my thesis. He asked if Jerry received a fellowship to go to Israel to build a computer, would he be willing to do so. Jerry said, of course, and possibly made an application. Then we didn't hear about it for some months.

Nebeker:

He didn't know that ahead of time?

Estrin:

Well, he knew he'd applied for a fellowship, but not that anything had occurred.

Nebeker:

He didn't know he'd won?

Estrin:

Not until that evening.

Nebeker:

You left in August of '53.

Estrin:

I think we couldn't make the August sailing, and finally went in September of '53. We arrived in Israel in December, after spending the months of September, October, and November in London, France and Italy.

Nebeker:

With the baby.

Estrin:

Yes. We took the baby all over London, and they were shocked to see us strolling around with a little baby.

Nebeker:

How was that for you?

Estrin:

It was fine. Each place we hired somebody. In London we hired a woman who had formerly worked for lords, and needed work. We had this portable carriage that you could wheel or you could put in a car. The nanny was very embarrassed by the small carriage, which was not a mark of status. We then went to France, and we found a young woman as a sitter, whose father worked for the government. They invited us to their home on a Sunday. I asked, "What is the white liquor that everybody drinks in all the bars, and it tastes like licorice?" He said, "Pernod, but nobody drinks that, just the workers." I thought that was very funny, because everybody in the bars drank Pernod. Then we went to Italy and from there by boat to Israel. In the bottom of the boat were people being brought to Israel from North Africa. I remember hanging up all of Margo's little clothes in the ladies' room and coming back the next morning and finding that they were all stolen.

Nebeker:

Where did you land?

Estrin:

Haifa. Somebody came and picked us up, and drove us to Rehovot, about a two-hour drive at that time. We had a lovely little house near the Weizmann Institute, and about nine months moved into the Weizmann housing complex. We loved Israel from the beginning. We stayed about sixteen months, from January through April. We thought about staying longer, and Jerry was offered some interesting job possibilities, but we decided not to. He built the computer in Israel, and Fry dropped out to run the electronics department.

Nebeker:

How were living conditions?

Estrin:

Well, they were pretty rough. But I liked it. You had a feeling that every item mattered to the people. If you had a piece of paper, you knew where the paper came from. If a new factory was built, everybody knew about it. Everything had a value at the time and life was very meaningful,

Nebeker:

Some kind of a pioneer atmosphere.

Estrin:

Yes. It was, and I really liked it.

Nebeker:

Could I ask you about your work in Israel?

Estrin:

Sure.

Nebeker:

You had some involvement?

Estrin:

Yes, I did. We had a baby sitter and I was a member of the computer project. I helped redesign the adder and the multiplier for greater reliability, using newer vacuum tubes.

Nebeker:

But besides having Margo, you had your second daughter there.

Estrin:

Yes. She was born in November 1954.

Nebeker:

So you were working just part time.

Estrin:

No, I worked full time until I had Judy. I probably worked three quarters time after she was born. It's easy to get help in Israel. We returned to the United States when she was about five months old.

Nebeker:

That was in?

Estrin:

In '55, and we went back to the Institute.

Nebeker:

And Jerry's fellowship was for that period?

Estrin:

Yes. He could have stayed. They offered to make him head of a new computer department. Jerry not only built the main frame of the computer, but he hired the staff and imported all the parts of the machine from the US, and had some made in Israel.

Return to Princeton, End of Computer Project

Nebeker:

So you returned — ?

Estrin:

We returned to the Institute in late April, and I got a part time position as an assistant instructor in mathematics in Douglass College, the women's college of Rutgers, for the next academic year. In '55 it looked as if the computer project at the Institute was coming to an end. The computer was completed and the people at the Institute didn't want a computer because it made too much noise. Of course it made no noise, and was in a separate building. Many mathematicians and science theorists didn't like the idea of computation. As a matter of fact, when we went to parties, mathematicians were always talking about how great von Neumann was before he got hooked on computers.

Nebeker:

I know there was a feeling that the Institute was for theoretical work — math and physics.

Estrin:

So that's part of it. In fact when Norbert Weiner came to the Institute he always asked the young mathematicians, "Who are the five best mathematicians in the country", hoping he would be one of them. There's a quality to some very bright mathematicians; they can be child-like, and view the world through a narrow frame.

Nebeker:

I see. So it was clear that the project was coming to an end?

Estrin:

Yes. And that the Institute didn't want it, and Princeton didn't want it either. Then professors and recruiters came to the Institute to interview the staff. We almost went to Northwestern near Chicago. Then one day Tommy Tompkins, a mathematician from UCLA came to the Institute. He offered Jerry a position which he accepted. The reason for acceptance was that von Neumann was to move to the mathematics department at UCLA. Johnnie was in Santa Monica a lot during the war, working at Rand. He and Klare loved the area and would stay at the Georgiana Hotel, looking at the ocean. They loved California and very much wanted to live here. We decided it was a good place for us, particularly after the warm climate in Israel. The Charneys almost came, but they finally decided to move to MIT. Von Neumann was busy on the Atomic Energy Commission at the time, and was in Washington where they bought/rented a house or an apartment. Then he became ill and died. And in the fall of '56 we came to LA.

Nebeker:

Okay, so you were another year there in Princeton from the summer of '55.

Estrin:

That's right. Almost a year and a half more.

Nebeker:

Was it one semester you taught at Douglass College?

Estrin:

No, one academic year in the mathematics department. I did have an offer for a position as an associate on the staff of the Moore School.

Nebeker:

Oh!

Estrin:

The position was not a faculty position, and Douglass was closer to Princeton.

Nebeker:

So you apparently were also looking for an engineering position?

UCLA

Estrin:

Yes. As a matter of fact, I received a letter from a well known engineer at Hughes, telling me there was no point for a woman looking for a position in academia. He had been head of an EE department, but left and went to Hughes in California. He suggested I could get a position at Hughes.

Nebeker:

Did you consider working at Hughes?

Estrin:

No, because we were at the Institute. Then when we came to California, I was trying to get into the university. At that time the drive to Hughes would have taken an hour. But UCLA considered it nepotism for me to work in the School of Engineering and Applied Science. At that time the engineering school was one department, not divided into the five departments, which most schools had, and spouses could not work in the same department. This was our original mistake. We should not have come to UCLA. We didn't realize that, and it was the fact that von Neumann would join UCLA that caused Jerry to accept. Jerry was half time in engineering and half time in mathematics. He came here also because the SWAC, a very early computer had been built here and there was a good staff. Also at that time I didn't look at husband-wife employment the way I would look at the issue today.

Nebeker:

So your husband was offered a position —

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

— and he accepted, and then you sought —

Estrin:

And my theory at the time was that wherever he was, I would get a job.

Nebeker:

And you didn't have success with the university in getting a position?

Estrin:

No. The idea of one department for undergraduates was to enable all engineers to have the same engineering background before specializing. If you wanted to specialize you would become a graduate student and choose your professor for that specialty. There was just one Department of Engineering at the time, and I was left out.

Nebeker:

Because of the nepotism rule?

Estrin:

Yes, definitely because of the nepotism rule. Well, then I looked around. I could have gotten a job working in the geophysics department.

Nebeker:

What sort of a job was that?

Estrin:

Doing applied computer mathematics for geophysics. The salary was so low, the offer appeared ridiculous. Then I almost got a position as a research assistant working for a young faculty member in the engineering school, but administration wouldn't approve the appointment, as it might be considered nepotism. Unfortunately, I regret that I never saved that letter. I might have used it about fifteen years later when nepotism rules were overturned. To try and get a faculty position based on past discrimination. However I did get a position on the faculty at a junior college in San Fernando Valley. I taught drafting, of all subjects, for two years. I also took courses to obtain a junior college teaching certificate, which was fun.

Molly Brazier and the Brain Research Institute

Estrin:

Molly is a woman who is twenty years older than I am, so she's now eighty-eight. She grew up in England, and her brother was a scientist. She came to the United States during the Second World War with her seven-year-old son and went to work at Mass General Hospital in Boston. She was very charming and bright, but more of a historian than a physiologist or scientist. I believe her fascination with science went back to competition with her brother. She wrote very well and published an enormous amount on the EEG, and educational articles on the brain. She worked with two very bright engineers in Boston, who did most of the scientific work, which she then wrote about in terms of her EEG experiences. Mainly her professional position was reading EEG records at the hospital. So we're back again to the reading of EEG records. She is a leading woman in the field.

Nebeker:

How long had she been at UCLA?

Estrin:

Well, she came in '60 for the conference, and probably joined the BRI in '61. When she set up the conference, she was planning to invite her EEG friends and a few MIT scientists. I really enlarged the conference and obtained several Rand mathematicians and some UCLA graduate students. Richard Bellman came to the conference. I really ran the whole thing. Not only the administrative part, but planning and naming the sessions and getting coherence out of the variety of presentations. There's an EEG supplement book on that conference, but you don't see my name in it once. I even helped edit that book. I thought Dr. Brazier would include me in her introduction. She never did, which was the first symbol of her egocentricity and selfishness.

Nebeker:

You were really the one who organized it?

Estrin:

Yes, that's right. It was her idea, with Magoun, to have a conference. I hired a secretary to administer the secretarial aspects. Brazier gave us a list of her buddies, whom we invited. They were well-known people in the EEG field and several from the MIT group working on computers in neurophysiology. Walter Rosenblith was head of that MIT group. Molly's behavior with me proved typical.

She has published several papers on the electromagnetic fields of brain waves. On the first paper she states at the beginning "with thanks to James Casby for all his help." Working with Dr. Brazier you would realize that she knew almost nothing about electromagnetic fields. Casby must have explained what they were, and she converted his concepts into a research paper. As you followed reprints of this paper, Casby's name goes to the end of the article. And in a final paper I believe he is omitted altogether. In fact the idea for the work certainly came from him. Before Dr. Brazier moved to UCLA, she worked with a bright young physician by the name of John Barlow. Magoun funded me to go and learn about Molly's equipment and help her get started in the BRI. Barlow hosted me. All the equipment that she brought for analog correlations of EEG waves were conceived, built, and used by Barlow. But she brought them to UCLA, and left him to build new equipment.

Nebeker:

Your conference work was a paid position?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

You were hired?

Estrin:

I was first hired on the conference grant. Dr. Magoun, who almost won the Nobel Prize, was very well known. I put on the conference, just as the Brain Research Institute was being set up, and the conference was its first activity.

Nebeker:

Did the conference take place in '60 or '61?

Estrin:

The conference was in '60.

Nebeker:

Okay.

Estrin:

That's right. I was probably hired for the year with money from the conference. Then in addition to the conference, we had a bibliography on computers in neurophysiological research, which I got together and she included in her EEG Supplement publication on the conference. Again I am omitted. I'm more aware and annoyed by this today than I was in '61. At that time I was fascinated by the emergence of computers in neurophysiology research. Following the conference we put in a grant to get a computer. Now that came about because of Ross Adey. Adey is an extremely bright man, who is also a fellow of IEEE. He is a "ham radio operator"

Nebeker:

Is he a neurophysiologist?

Estrin:

He's an M.D. and a neurophysiologist and a neurologist. He's now at Loma Linda. He was a leader in claiming that exposure to low frequency electromagnetic fields can be injurious to the average person.

Nebeker:

Before we leave the topic of Molly Brazier, do you think she was especially manipulative or exploitative of you because you were a woman?

Estrin:

No. She was exploitative of everybody. She was very charming, and knew how to get a good deal out of situations. She was mean and dishonest to the people in the labs. Did you ever see "The Children's Hour"? In the play there was a women who was manipulative from the time she was a little girl. I believe Molly's manipulation must have begun with her brother and continued through her career. She received many books as a former editor, I believe, of the EEG journal. She sold all the books, and didn't give any of them to the library, though she was very wealthy financially. She was absolutely charming and seemed wonderful, but just awfully selfish and stingy underneath. She received a prestigious award from a group of medical wives, which they distributed each year to a well known UCLA women. A year or two later, a member of the group informed me that I was considered to receive the award. Molly's comment was "Oh, she's just a technician."

Well let's leave Dr. Brazier before I continue further on issues not relevant to us. Dr. Ross Adey had written a grant to try and digitize the EEG so it could be entered into a computer. They were going to trace the signal, and punch in numbers.

Nebeker:

Was this a computerized analysis of it, or just a description?

Estrin:

The grant requested funds to obtain digital numbers which would be entered into the computer, but it wasn't funded. Adey was interested in computers to begin to do some spectral analysis of EEG waves. One of Adey's students Don Walter was beginning to work on this. I read this first grant, a year or more after it was written, and by that time analog to digital converters had come of age. Ross Adey wrote a new grant and I wrote the computer sections and requested funds for an a-d conversion system, which I had specified. Ross Adey was writing many grant requests to NIH and to the armed services. French knew nothing about the technology, or even much about the details of Adey's research. He believed in Ross and French was a co-P.I. on the grant requests. The grant requesting an a-d conversion system would support my salary. I became involved in helping to get the grant funded, and hosted the NIH person who came to visit the BRI and decide on our merits. Dr. Brazier was not involved in this work. She received her own grants, and did not want to be involved with others in funding. Also she may have been in Boston at the time.

Nebeker:

She's within the Brain Research Institute?

Estrin:

Well, she was about to come to the Brain Research Institute. She didn't really have a faculty appointment, but I believe she later became a Professor of Anatomy, In Residence. Anatomy was the department that most people joined in coming to the Brain Research Institute, as Magoun was in that department. He was really the leader in building the BRI. Magoun appointed me and asked, "Well, what do you think your appointment should be?" I think I replied, that I should be an associate research anatomist, step 1. I think there are four steps to each appointment. I downplayed my contributions, which is something you find a lot of women doing. He would have put any step on my appointment. I received an academic appointment as Associate Research Anatomist, step 1.

The grant was submitted in the name of Adey, French and Magoun. Ross Adey was interested in his own work, though very willing to share his equipment. He subsequently was funded for a very large program to send a chimpanzee to outer space. French was head of the Institute, and Magoun was a name we used because he was very respected and well known in brain research circles. Magoun was involved in the Macy Foundation Conferences, where the first ideas to use computers for neuroelectric data were discussed. But I was interested in setting up a data processing laboratory in the Brain Research Institute to service and help neurophysiologists. You can't just call it a service because nobody knew about computer instrumentation and analysis. I became involved with many problems and instructed BRI investigators on how to use computers for their research.

Nebeker:

But you said that Adey was already interested

Estrin:

Oh, Adey was interested. No question. But nobody else was knowledgeable. The Brain Research Institute had almost a hundred members.

Nebeker:

Oh, that large!

Estrin:

Yes it consisted of academics from almost a dozen departments, to encourage interdisciplinary brain research. Perhaps twenty-five or thirty were somewhat interested in the computer. My idea was to ultimately have all people collecting neuroelectric data use a computer system.

BRI Grant and EEG Work

Nebeker:

And there was funding for this?

Estrin:

Well, that's what we got funded to do. We were the first grant NIH awarded for such a large sum. I believe a couple of hundred thousand dollars. When we finally received the grant, Adey was also receiving funds from the Army.

Nebeker:

What year did you get the grant?

Estrin:

This was in '62. Meanwhile, I was working on a-d conversion design on a half-time basis with funds from Ross Adey. The initial grant to the BRI, from NIH, continued for almost two decades and in some years averaged, four hundred to five hundred thousand dollars a year. One year we even received eight hundred thousand dollars.

Nebeker:

Is there some easy explanation of that? Did they have a very high opinion of some of the people?

Estrin:

Well they did. It was no longer just Magoun, who became a Dean for Research at UCLA. But Adey, and Brazier, and the UCLA Medical School, headed by Will Dixon. The medical school received a very large IBM computing system. At the time, UCLA had a significant lead in the use of computers for scientific and management computation. IBM supported three large computer installations on campus. One was to the Business School, one was to the Health Sciences Center (HSC), formerly called the Medical Center and one was to the general campus.

For a type of temporal lobe epilepsy that could not be controlled with medication, neurologists were trying to decide, if the epilepsy attack was triggered by the right or left side of a region in the brain. At UCLA, neurologists began to operate on these patients. They would implant electrodes in the hippocampus and amygdala, and bring out the leads so we could record their EEG rhythms. Patients were left in this state for about a week, and they were fine except for the leads in or on their heads covered by a cap. Dr. Brazier had EEG recordings from these brain regions which were unique. Every day she went to lunch with the neurosurgeon, received the latest information and then acted as if she were at the operations and the recording sessions for the patients.

She was not to any of the operations, and she rarely saw the patients. Molly encouraged me to join them at lunch, for the information I might receive. There were about twenty five patients by about 1970. I developed some recording equipment that was used to get implanted recordings from these patients. I transferred the plug boards used for IBM accounting equipment to the neurology lab, and helped design a recording system. This was to facilitate getting thirty-two leads of EEG signals from the head of the patient into the computer. Neurophysiologists were involved in trying to find out which side, and what part of the hippocampus, were involved with these seizures.

Nebeker:

Were you involved with that kind of research?

Estrin:

Well, the neurologists had their own lab, but I had helped them with setting it up. I was also involved with them in trying to get new grant support for new research ideas. In one case, which is being researched today, we had light reflected onto the retina, and recorded brain waves from the scalp in the area of the occipital lobe, which responded to the flashes. Our goal was to use the brain waves to tell a blind person, who could not see the light, how to behave in response to light and dark. That was one project, which was not finally funded. That occurred after I returned from Israel, probably in the early 70s.

In 1963 I received a Fulbright grant for research in Israel. At the same time, Jerry had a Guggenheim. During our Israel stay Adey took over the Data Processing Laboratory and received a very large grant, millions of dollars, to instrument a chimp to go into space. Adey believed that being free of the gravitational field for several days, would affect a human's physical system. He hired some computer people while I was in Israel. I personally did not get involved with his space project because I didn't think he could carry it out at the university. The project was too extensive and complicated and involved too many specialists. At that time there were chimps in the BRI, and they were being instrumented and being trained. Adey had good ideas, but the system integration was poor and the chimp died about twenty seconds after send off. I believe this happened to two chimps. In the meantime the first space ship with human astronauts went into space and returned. His chimp project took at least five years. As we approached the end of our stay in Israel, Molly Brazier wrote to me about her new grant, which had just been funded. Would I come and work with her? I had done the engineering and computer aspects of the grant before leaving for Israel, and I did go to work with Molly. She had come to visit us in Israel, as had Ross Adey. Here's another interesting bit. Israel financed her travel, and we hosted her for the days she was there. When she left, she said "You know, Thelma, I'm not going to give you any money now because when I leave I have to pay a duty tax. I'll send you some money." Of course she never did. But we had a good time and I still liked her, until I had worked in her laboratory for several years and saw her deviousness at play.

Fulbright Year in Israel: EEG Research

Nebeker:

Okay. Was it a Fulbright you had in Israel?

Estrin:

Yes. To go to Israel. Jerry had a Guggenheim. At the same time, I applied for a Fulbright grant to get pattern recognition from the EEG before a seizure occurred. I was to work with a gentleman in Israel who was inducing epilepsy in monkeys for research purposes.

Nebeker:

So there was someone there at Weizmann to work with?

Estrin:

His name was Baruch Blum. But by the time I went to Israel, he had a severe argument with the electronics department, and it wasn't possible to work with him, as the electronic department accepted my Fulbright.

Nebeker:

Tell me some more about your EEG research. Particularly the statistical vs. an AI approach.

Estrin:

A typical experiment would be to have a person in a physiological or behavioral state, and during that state obtain statistical parameters of the EEG. The computer is asked to identify EEG patterns that are said to relate to that state. That is to quantify the wavy analog EEG pattern. We're trying to take these EEG patterns and tell something from them. You must sample the wave at least two times for its highest frequency. For an alpha wave of ten cycles per second we obtained 250 digital values for each channel. So you can see all the data that you're dealing with for sixteen or thirty-two channels of recording. An automated analog to digital, or A-D system is very important.

Nebeker:

The idea is to use statistical techniques to identify patterns?

Estrin:

The idea is to try to take these patterns, and put them into a computer and get out statistical numbers. Now, with artificial intelligence, one would have a different kind of program. You wouldn't look at statistical parameters. You'd ask certain kinds of key questions that an EEGer observes and you'd write an AI program to imitate the EEGer.

Nebeker:

Approaching it geometrically rather than first getting the statistics?

Estrin:

Yes, in a way. A lot of AI work is doing that. It's taking a very learned person, getting them to define every little segment of their decision mechanisms, reproduce them in a program, and get the program to determine what the expert would predict.

Nebeker:

Okay. And what actually happened in that Fulbright year?

Estrin:

Well, I did write a paper on A to D conversion for medical people. And I wrote the specifications for a new BRI A-D system at the BRI. Today you can buy an A to D converter chip that you can insert into your computer for about five dollars.

Nebeker:

Number 8 in your bibliography is the A-D paper, What about number 9?

Estrin:

No. That paper is when I worked in Dr. Braziers's laboratory.

Recap: 1956-1964

Nebeker:

Before we go back to BRI, I wanted to ask about the period of '56 to '60. You came back from Israel in the spring of '55 and then Douglass College that academic year. Then your husband started at UCLA in October '56.

Estrin:

I taught at Los Angeles Valley College, a two-year college, in the academic years of '58 and '59. You wouldn't believe what I taught there. One of the things I taught was drafting. That was the reason I brought in my drafting story at the beginning of our talk. But I believe I also taught something else.

Nebeker:

You were probably a very good teacher of it, as much as you worked at it yourself.

Estrin:

Well, by then.

Birth of Third Daughter

Nebeker:

When was your third daughter born? In that period?

Estrin:

Yes, she was born at the end of '59, December '59. A few months after she was born, I went to work for the BRI.

Nebeker:

Okay. So you had a few years there when you weren't working.

Estrin:

Well, I worked for two years — I had one year when I wasn't working, and that was when we came here in the fall of '56. I taught, half time, in the '57/'58 and '58/'59 academic years. For two summers I took enough courses to get a certificate to teach junior college. I had Deborah and didn't teach in the fall of '59. I went to work at the BRI in June of '60. She was born in December of '59.

Nebeker:

Half time?

Estrin:

Half time.

Nebeker:

You didn't look for an engineering position?

Estrin:

I tried to get positions at UCLA, which was close to where we lived. I also was not really interested in traveling a long distance to work in a large aerospace company. When I joined the Board of the Aerospace Company in 1978, I loved it. I should have considered an aerospace firm earlier. However that would have been more difficult for my daughters.

Nebeker:

That's where most of the jobs were at that time?

Estrin:

Yes. It wasn't as easy to get to those places and have children. When we first lived in LA we lived in the hills in Brentwood. That's close to UCLA, but it was a big trek to get to Hughes. I also was not very happy about the use of creativity in the defense industry. But I was wrong about that. I think there was a lot of interesting work being done at Hughes and TRW and certainly at Aerospace. I'm sorry I didn't join them and try it out.

Nebeker:

Well, I would imagine also having three daughters —

Estrin:

It would have been very difficult. From 1962 we lived right across the street from UCLA. I was always able to get home in a flash, if anything happened.

Nebeker:

Okay. So just to review, in '60 you were hired to help organize this conference. Then in '61 —

Estrin:

We began to apply for a grant, which we got in '62.

Nebeker:

Okay. So the grant came in '62. You were then full time.

Estrin:

When I began working at UCLA, I was 50 percent time, but I was quickly full time. And that supported me through 1980 except for my Fulbright year.

Nebeker:

I see.

Data Processing Laboratory (BRI)

Arrival

Estrin:

Or the DPL grant and Dr. Brazier's grants from '64 to '69. On returning from Israel, I went to work for Molly Brazier.

Nebeker:

And it was her grant that paid your salary?

Estrin:

Yes. I was included in her grant request for funding. I did the computer hardware sections, and described some quasi-real time experiments that required an on-line computer system for some average evoked response research. My aim was get on-line access of brain wave data to the DPL computer in the basement. The grant requested funds for an analog-to-digital convertor for Dr. Brazier's laboratory on the 5th floor of the BRI building.

We also were installing transmission lines from each of the BRI seven floors to the basement where DPL was located. Our A-D converter on the fifth floor would digitize data as it was being collected, send it to the basement where it was entered into the computer. Spectral analysis was done in the HSC computer, and taken there on properly formatted digital tape from the DPL system. The computer in DPL would return simply computed information, liked the evoked response, to the laboratory.

Nebeker:

A sort of real time system.

Estrin:

Yes, the computed results, which were average responses returned in about thirty seconds. My work with Brazier was to get the on-line digital system working. She never really used it because she was interested in spectral analysis, which required a large main frame like the IBM computer in the HSC. The patient data was recorded on analog tape, and the tape was taken to DPL for digitizing. A few other scientists and I used the on-line system. I did some minor experiments in averaging with it. I also began to do some of my own work, which was displaying the EEG as a topographical pattern for successive instances of time.

Nebeker:

So these are snapshots at successive times?

Estrin:

Yes. A well known EEGer from the Mayo Clinic came to our lab to work with Molly Brazier for a while, and then moved on to UC San Diego. He was a fine person, named Reginald Bickford. He left our lab and went to San Diego to set up his own new laboratory, and he developed a spatial distribution of evoked displays. These became popular. You see the typical outline of the scalp, which EEGers use. On top of that you see the voltage average of evoked potentials placed on the scalp at the points of the recording electrodes.

For a while his system became popular and some researchers used his spatial displays to represent their evoked response computing. I believe he conceived the idea of spatial representation from my work. The idea of looking at brain waves in space rather than only time is apparent when using an analog to digital converter. Displaying the digits that result in the form of a movie, was the idea we achieved by modifying camera equipment.

Nebeker:

You must really see the display to fully understand what you are describing.

Legal Controversy Over Topographical Map

Estrin:

Yes that is true. In '85 or '86, a lawyer phoned me to discuss my EEG topography. Two firms were using topographic maps, in humans, probably to monitor brain death. Firm A was suing Firm B claiming they had invented the topographical map. Actually a few days later the lawyer of Firm B also called me, claiming they were using different calculations. The issue was the topography idea. Neither of them invented the idea of a topographic map as I was the first to do so. Probably if I had worked in a firm we would have had a patent for the idea. I told both lawyers I was not interested, which was probably a mistake.

Nebeker:

This is the topographic lines that connect points of equal voltage?

Estrin:

Yes, of equal voltage.

Nebeker:

— at a particular point in time.

Estrin:

On this map colors represent different voltages. During my research days, color printers did not exist. We associated different voltages with different numbers. Then as color printers emerged, they represent voltage distribution at an instant in time by various colors.

Nebeker:

What did these two people want you to say. What did they hope to gain by calling you?

Estrin:

Firm A claimed that Firm B was copying their patent for topographic maps. Firm B also called me on the phone and asked me if I had spoken to a lawyer from Firm A who had a patent on topographical maps. Firm B was making topographical maps for a different purpose, and being sued by Firm A.

Nebeker:

Was this the first time that kind of topographic map was done?

Estrin:

I think so.

Head-Recording Turban and Visual Map Research

Nebeker:

One could hope that the fact that you've developed a system you can visualize, or make visual this information, that the doctors then could sit and watch these movies and learn what patterns mean.

Estrin:

You are right. In my plan to make a movie, we hoped to see the voltage distributions over the surface of the head, and correlate it with different physiological states. We finally had the technology to do this, but the voltages we were recording were too variable, based on the resistance of the scalp and the electrode contact being made. To my mind we had a wonderful system, with poor data. However we put in "garbage" and beautiful "garbage" came out. In other words, the system was fine, topography was an interesting technique, but we couldn't verify our original signals. This is the same sort of problem Dr. Brazier had with her spectral analysis of implanted electrodes. Great programs, but we couldn't really verify the data relative to all the calculations that ensued in the statistical analysis. The measurement of voltage in a human depends on the validity of the activity recorded by electrode placements. It took quite a bit of time to place the electrodes. We began to think about preparing a head-recording turban.

Nebeker:

What is that?

Estrin:

I meant something you could put on your head with all the spacing of electrodes in place. In our experiments, a technician had to locate each space for the electrode, and then attach it. We really needed thirty two electrodes, and placement of them took too long. When you finished the experiment, you weren't sure the contacts were as secure as when you started, and if the voltages that were being recorded were really accurate. Also EEGers would have to learn other patterns, topographical patterns at an instant of time, while they had used voltage time graphs for about forty years.

Nebeker:

So it didn't really take off. I mean, it didn't seem the payoff was big enough to continue.

Estrin:

Well, it needed more funding.

Nebeker:

Who funded the visual map research?

Estrin:

An NSF grant.

Nebeker:

That's what it says.

Estrin:

It was a joint grant, though Brazier was head of the lab and was the principal author. She was also very well known, which probably made the award possible.

Nebeker:

But she didn't get her name onto your authored paper?

Estrin:

She knew nothing about my work. It was my grant. She never interfered with my research and I was never attached to hers. Though I helped quite a bit with some of her explanations and all of her equipment. I even helped her with a few sections of her latest book, but she never gave me a copy.

By the way, NIH only funded technical equipment as an aid to specific scientific research. So all NIH grants, even if the purpose of the grant was to get an engineer to create some innovative instrumentation, would not be funded on an engineering basis. You could not apply to NSF to only support instrumentation. Molly applied for many grants and I wrote the computer and instrumentation parts.

Nebeker:

I see. Do you remember when the NSF grant came through?

Estrin:

I think the grant is about '66 or '67.

Nebeker:

Do you remember the length of that NSF grant?

Estrin:

Yes, it was a two-year grant.

Nebeker:

Can you tell me who this co-author of your paper is?

Estrin:

He's a programmer. He's a very smart fellow. He did all the programming.

Computing in Medical Education

Nebeker:

To go back a bit. When you accepted your Fulbright, were there any conditions by the BRI?

Estrin:

Not by the BRI. They were pleased to have me return. But the Associate Dean of the Medical School, by the name of John Fields would not let me accept the Fulbright unless I resigned from the university. He did this because I was a research academic and not a faculty academic. I even received a letter from the chancellor congratulating me on getting the Fulbright. Dr. French also wrote a fine letter in my support and tried to get me a leave of absence, but Fields made me resign.

After I returned to UCLA, in '64, I wrote a letter to Dean Mellinkoff who was the dean of the school for about twenty years, suggesting the need to form a medical school committee concerned with investigating computing as a tool for the profession. I believe he wrote me a note, expressing thanks, and said he was passing my letter on to Dean Fields. Fields response was very insulting. He implied that I was a research associate and not on the faculty. He says, many members of the staff are acquainted with computing, and went on to downgrade a few of the uses I suggested. Except for Will Dixon, Adey and Brazier, none of the faculty was concerned with computers at all, though a few were vaguely interested. The medical school fell far behind in the area of computer uses in medical practice.

Nebeker:

So you were proposing simply a committee to investigate computing and medical education, delivery and etc.?

Estrin:

Yes. To look at issues in terms of better education for medical students. His response meant that it wasn't my place to do so. As I think of the issues, today I believe that my being female was also involved.

Nebeker:

Did you encounter discrimination frequently?

Estrin:

Oh, there were several classes of discrimination in addition to the female one. The first one I came across was religious discrimination in relation to Tau Beta Pi at Wisconsin. The second class is being what Dr. Brazier referred to as "a technician in the Medical School." Of course there are different levels of technicians, but to many physicians all engineers are technicians.

Nebeker:

In other words, if you didn't have an M.D. or a physiology Ph.D....

Estrin:

Yes, that's right. You design instruments, know how they can be repaired — and you're just a technician. That is still partially true today. This year the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering was formed, with about 150 biomedical engineers as founding fellows. The purpose of the organization is to bring together members from all the disciplines of engineering.

As I indicated, the large computer grants we had from NIH always came behind the experiments done by the neuroscientists. On each review committee for DPL grants, a few computer scientists would also appear to evaluate our new computer applications. For my last application to NIH, I think in 1979, NIH changed their method of choosing reviewers. The computer people on the committee weren't computer scientists, but biomedical scientists who used computers. When I spoke about microcomputers and illustrated their use, very few of them realized the impact the personal computer would have on their research in the coming decade.

Nebeker:

Do you regret coming to UCLA?

Estrin:

Jerry feels it was a mistake to come under the conditions we did, but at that time I thought very differently. I thought I would find an interesting job wherever Jerry went. And I did. Of course, today we would never come to UCLA with its nepotism laws. But of course today UCLA has abolished those laws, and Jerry and I are in the same department.

Nebeker:

So if they'd had a committee overseeing computers in medicine —

Estrin:

Yes. The whole UC system is really not concerned with medical informatics in any way. You might get a few good people here or there, but it's not a center. USC had a much stronger center in biomedical and computer engineering, which may have fallen apart. Actually the HSC is among the best hospitals in the country. That's fine, but it took them a decade to get there and not much creativity in medical informatics.

Computer Animation

Nebeker:

Returning to the NSF grant-

Estrin:

A very interesting happening came out of that grant. A well known man in animation, John Whitney, used the combination of our IMLAC computer tied to our light source and camera to make a computer animated movie; using the equipment that we had gotten from NSF.

Nebeker:

That was using your movie camera?

Estrin:

Yes our automated movie camera. Whitney would create a picture on the screen and take a photo of it. He would write a program to make a new display with a slight change in motion of an arm or a leg or both, and take that photo. The series of photos taken sequentially from the screen were played back by the camera at a speed that showed motion.

Nebeker:

Right. But that was not a simple matter to get the synchronization with the — ?

Estrin:

Yes, but our camera was controlled — through our design for the topographical maps — to be synchronized with the screen. Technically this was very possible, but no animator had done that before. Whitney became very famous with his animation. If you went to see computer movies years ago you would hear music and see all sorts of symbols and shapes moving in reaction to the music. I believe Whitney has written several books on the subject of computer animation.

Nebeker:

I see. Do you think that was one of the first times that someone had worked out how to take movie images from a computer?

Estrin:

Yes, I think so.

Nebeker:

One of the questions I had was the importance of this kind of real-time processing here. Why not just put this information on tape?

Estrin:

Because of the real time aspects, and the ability to intervene automatically.

EEG vs. EKG

Nebeker:

Right. I can understand that real time — I mean, certainly in the long term you want to have real time. Were you following what was going on with EKG analysis on the heart?

Estrin:

Yes, but I was in the EEG area. The EKG area was much simpler to understand and to control because people can isolate the heart and understand its electric field and its distribution. It is much grosser. Neuroscience today is primarily based on molecular biology.

Nebeker:

The heart is much simpler.

Estrin:

It's very different. The things they do are complicated and important but the signals are known. They know where they come from. I think ultimately as we learn more, we'll come back to the brain and do more with it as a system. Neuroscience in the Brain Research Institute today is very biological; it really involves molecular biology and chemistry.

When at the end of the seventies I began to get more interested in women's issues and the IEEE I was partially pushed out of brain research because of my lack of real chemical and molecular-biological knowledge. I didn't feel that my system approach throughout EEG experiments were as significant as I had thought. A success I did have was that I aided about thirty neuroscientists to use computers as a tool. I really did establish the DPL for that purpose. Adey was generous and would let people use his equipment, but I had the goal of getting access for all BRI neurophysiologists interested in computing. For many years the computer committee of the BRI was always looking for somebody to be the director of DPL. We had numerous computer committee meetings and interviewed lots of people. Important scientists would not come because they could not also get a faculty appointment in a department, which is tenured. I finally got the position, because well known outside people would not accept.

Directorship of DPL

Nebeker:

You're talking about director of the data-processing laboratory? When did you assume that position?

Estrin:

Nineteen seventy. But I had run the lab before anyhow, while they were looking for a director and I was in Dr. Brazier's laboratory.

Nebeker:

And your funding would then be tied to the NIH grant that supported the lab?

Estrin:

Yes. For the last decade, until 1980 I was the principal investigator. Several computer — type members of the NIH committee had visited the BRI several times, and were very knowledgeable about the work I had done, and were very supportive of me.

Nebeker:

So it was unlikely that NIH would make a large grant unless there was a full-time director?

Estrin:

Yes, they wouldn't have given $300,000 if there was nobody to take charge of it. That doesn't seem like a lot of money, but it was.

Nebeker:

Now just to backtrack a bit, how long were you in Brazier's lab, so to speak? You know, under her grant. Were you physically working there?

Estrin:

I was in her lab from 1964 until about 1969.

Nebeker:

You had this NSF grant from probably '66 to '68.

Estrin:

Yes. Molly knew that obtaining funding was getting more difficult.

Nebeker:

This memo from October of '69 says that you and Donald Walter were acting as co-directors of DPL.

Estrin:

Don Walter is the gentleman who was Adey's graduate student in the 60s and who introduced the use of spectral analysis to the EEG. He is very bright and very theoretical, but not a manager. I had an office down in DPL as well. I went down there in '68. As I tell this to you, I now wonder if Don wasn't included because he is male. He is very bright, but absolutely not a laboratory leader.

Nebeker:

And you say that you were functioning as director of the lab before you were formally named? Finally, you were named director and received funding from the NIH grant, I assume.

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And how did things work out there?

DPL’s Role in Research

Estrin:

Well, that was fine. Many investigators in the BRI used the DPL between '70 and '80. I then worked closely with two other people. One was Ron Harper and the second is Bob Sclabassi.

Nebeker:

Now who is this? Ron Harper?

Estrin:

Ron Harper is now a professor of anatomy. He had a sudden-infant-death children's grant, and all his analyses were based on computerized statistical programs. He was doing his research on data obtained from a study at the USC Medical School. They were investigating sudden-infant-death, SIDS, in children, whose sister or brother had sudden infant death.

Robert Sclabassi is now a professor at the University of Pittsburgh. He had gotten his Ph.D. degree at USC and he was working on multiple sclerosis research at UCLA. He left UCLA to get a medical degree. Bob was an engineer as an undergraduate and very knowledgeable about statistical computer programs and their use. The DPL was very popular because we had a series of computers, prior to the networking ideas we use today. The sequence of going, from analog to digital conversion to a small computer or to a graphics computer, the IMLAC, and finally to a large scale IBM computer, allowed a lot of variation and new ideas for analysis and display. The idea of having this sequence of going from analog to digital conversion to a small computer to a graphics computer and back again, is what a graphics work station or a graphics terminal on a network does today.

Nebeker:

What role did you have in promoting computer use in the BRI?

Estrin:

I think I was enormously useful, and very important to both Harper and Sclabassi. Harper has been interviewed several times about his SID research and he has never mentioned the DPL or my role. I asked him to join us, as soon as he arrived in LA, as a post-doc, and I sensed his interest in computers. If there was no DPL he would have spent several years until he got into computer related work. In Sclabassi's case, he wrote an interesting article for an IEEE transactions and added Harper as a co-author, though I also helped him with his ideas. I asked Sclabassi to join DPL, and he was a very useful member. I couldn't believe that he would co-author Harper and leave me out.

Today I don't feel as badly about what lack of recognition did to my career, as I feel badly for what I could have done for UCLA. I had no real encouragement in the BRI. The only encouragement I had was in consulting with investigators. When I left DPL in 1980 and the lab folded, I went to the engineering school as a Professor of Computer Science, in Residence. Harper took the equipment of DPL to another building for his laboratory.

Epilepsy and the EEG

Estrin:

During the seventies an important accomplishment done by the neurology and neurosurgery departments was performed on about thirty patients who had very severe epilepsy that was uncontrollable. Using stereotaxic methods, they were able to implant electrodes in the hippocampus and the amygdala of the brain. They knew that these areas would probably be an initiating site for epileptic discharges that spread through higher brain centers and caused the epileptic patterns the EEG was known to detect on the scalp. The idea was to determine if the spiking started on the right or the left. They could then make a lesion in that area, and stop the spread. They were recording from these electrodes, which were implanted for a week or two. They also recorded from scalp electrodes. Dr. Brazier wanted to relate the scalp recordings to the implanted spike that would occur, by using spectra analysis. She hoped this complicated EEG phenomena, by spectral analysis, would yield information on the initial development of the epileptic seizure in the lower brain centers.

Nebeker:

So that in treatment of future epileptics, you wouldn't have to implant those electrodes?

Estrin:

That's right. For future treatments you could look at the EEG. The neurosurgical research was successful, as ablating the area of the spike did help the patient. But this had nothing to do with the scalp EEG. It was determining whether the right or left brain area for implanted electrodes was initially active.

My personal opinion is to doubt whether anybody found out anything about the EEG, or the patient. I do believe in evoked response research. That is, you stimulate somebody for a period of time, computationally wipe out what's considered the noise and pick out the responses. Evoked response research has been wonderful for children, in auditory work for example. You're not looking at the EEG over the whole scalp. You're looking at the occipital region for vision or the auditory centers.

Nebeker:

How did you become interested in this project?

Estrin:

One reason I became involved in EEG research was my interest in the electromagnetic fields on the surface of the head. I was interested in electromagnetism. When I began, I thought I could look at the brain with its electrical properties and find out what is happening below. There have been years of interesting research done by scientists who studied the spike discharges of neurons in lower species. When I was at Columbia, Grundfest had led this effort, and they were working with the giant axons of the squid and with aplesia.

Nebeker:

Which one is that?

Estrin:

"Recording the Impulse Firing Pattern," 1961. Using digital techniques where before people used flashes of light or something less precise. But when you realize that the brain has 10 to the 10th neurons, spending a whole day working to get the firing pattern of two or three neurons can seem useless. But it has proved useful and advances were made, particularly in the sensory systems where one knew the pathways of connections between neurons, and the input stimuli. With the rise of molecular biology, neurophysiology has become neuroscience and shifted to new chemical and biophysical techniques.

Nebeker:

Yes. But when you think that the brain is these 10 to the 10th neurons, it's remarkable that there are patterns in the overall electrical fields on the surface of the scalp that are easily interpreted. I mean, there's so much going on.

Estrin:

In epilepsy, or brain malignancies, changes in the EEG are obvious. Age, degree of alertness and stages of sleep also have characteristic patterns.

Nebeker:

Did your work change very much after you were named director of the data-processing laboratory?

Estrin:

Yes, because in the time that I was in Brazier's lab — and I would say that time began in '64 and ended in '67 or '68 — I was working on getting the topological maps, or the space maps. Though I was on the BRI Computer Committee, and we met, set policies and were looking for a director.

Nebeker:

It was '69 that you were an acting director?

Estrin:

Yes, possibly even '68. The DPL staff had about twenty-five employees. From four to six were excellent programmers. I believe in '68, we had a site visit and the NIH team arrived. I believe Ross Adey was ill, or out of the country. The head of the anatomy department, Carmine Clemente presented an introduction. I think the NIH people realized how inadequate his introduction was, as he was not knowledgeable about DPL. Several of the NIH people had been to the BRI for other visits. They realized DPL was supporting computing activities for many people in the BRI, but none of this was given in the introduction. They finally made suggestions that DPL had to have a leader and, I believe, even suggested that I would be a good person to use.

Nebeker:

But at that point, instead of working on a single project as you were in Brazier's lab —

Estrin:

Dr. Brazier's lab was not really a single project. All the implanted patients, usually one or two a month, came to her laboratory, which was in the BRI and not in the hospital portion of the HSC. The BRI was part of the HSC, but not part of the hospital, which had different rules of administration and cleanliness requirements. Patients should not have been allowed in her lab. We had to get the place cleaned up for patients because in between patients, somebody might use her large recording site to record from a cat. And that wasn't right. I essentially had to supervise the four or five people who worked for Dr. Brazier as technicians, EEG recorders, or programmers. My work was getting space maps, but I had set up the lab, and there were always EEG recording problems to be figured out.

Nebeker:

It seems like in what you've been saying and what you said yesterday, that this is the very beginning of applying computers and more than computers, it's electronic recording and so on, in this field. And it was, of course, happening in a lot of fields in that time. You mentioned that the analog-to-digital converter was a big project for you. A lot of people were working on such things at the time. And now there are standard components for that. I imagine that's true of some of these other graphics capabilities.

Estrin:

But at the time we worked in the BRI, except for MIT, which had designed its own systems and introduced the use of statistical techniques, the Data Processing Lab, or DPL worked as a cooperative lab for BRI researchers interested in starting to use computers. DPL was well developed by the 70's. Many of the techniques that are just being introduced today, in networking, we did in the seventies.

Nebeker:

Yes. Well, I was also thinking of in geology where they —

Estrin:

Oh, there's no question!

Nebeker:

— were struggling to do the same kind of things with large amounts of data. Make it three, you know, digitalize it in three dimensions using computers and so on. So you're saying except for MIT, there weren't other places at this time doing it in neurophysiology?

Estrin:

Not to my knowledge. And MIT had a small laboratory for electro-neurophysiologists under Walter Rosenblith. The lab influenced the development of the DEC computer, and part of it came out of the work that Wesley Clark did in looking at brain waves. Molly was at Massachusetts General Hospital during this time and friendly with the MIT people. She had gone to some of their seminars, and they discussed her EEG recordings. What we did in DPL was to apply computer and the engineering technique to neurophysiology, and to let the discipline ask new questions of their data.

Nebeker:

Right. And once you became director of DPL, you were then, I presume, helping a lot of groups?

Estrin:

Yes. Then we helped probably about twenty-five researchers, who came to DPL and then began to try to incorporate our automation into their investigations.

Nebeker:

And most of them were interested in recording spike data?

Estrin:

Yes. A lot of them were recording spike data. Others were recording EEG data. Some people were interested in memory. Could you find particular neuronal sites where you could isolate short-term memory versus middle memory versus longer memory? There were different questions asked.

Nebeker:

And what the computer brought to this was instead of simply having a tracing —

Estrin:

Yes. They used to have traces, usually oscilloscope traces, which they photographed.

Nebeker:

I see.

Estrin:

With DPL you could record analog data on a tape, and then get DPL to digitize the recordings. Magoun was always looking for a name to call our computer aided research. We used to call it "computer-age brain research." The essence was to take this qualitative neurophysiological art, where people were looking at the gross objectives and trying to quantify and measure them.

The discovery of DNA and Rosalyn Yalow's discovery of radioimmunoassay propelled the development of molecular biology and then of neuroscience. Today, neuroscience is primarily chemical and biological. About 80 to 85 percent of the papers that are published I don't understand at all. There are still people doing electrical recordings, but asking better questions of their data.

Nebeker:

Let me try to suggest a parallel to that situation. There was a time also — this was after World War II — in meteorology because punched-card tabulators and computers were available, there was a lot of enthusiasm for a purely statistical approach to meteorological data. You'd look for correlations between things.

Estrin:

Yes, that's exactly what we were doing.

Nebeker:

And it turned out, in retrospect, to have been a big disappointment. You really couldn't find many useful correlations. It was a different approach, you know, calculations from physical principles with the computer that turned out to be very successful. And you're saying that looking at the chemistry of the brain was more fruitful than studying the EEGs.

Estrin:

Oh, yes. No comparison. I'm not saying you didn't find interesting facts from the EEG, and many may be used as we learn more about the brain as a system.

Nebeker:

That the statistical study of these tracings didn't give a lot of results.

Estrin:

Perhaps statistical studies of what's happening at the chemical level would lead to some results.

Nebeker:

Of course one doesn't know that before.

Estrin:

But again, it's the molecular techniques and the chemistry and the biology, and finding out what really is going on at the cellular level that is exciting today.

Nebeker:

So these groups at BRI, they wanted to record and digitize data and then use the computer to analyze the data?

Estrin:

Yes.

Nebeker:

And you were also working on graphical techniques of checking the data?

Microcomputers and Minicomputers

Estrin:

About eight years ago, I was at a conference, run by ACM, called "The History of Personal Computers." Pioneers who paved the way for personal computers spoke. A report in a newspaper commented about the BRI and said that, "Special stations were developed at the Brain Institute, UCLA in the sixties." We were the first people to do this.

Nebeker:

So one way of putting it is that you're showing these neurophysiologists and other brain researchers —

Estrin:

How to use a personal computer for their data.

Nebeker:

— the value of having it. Right.

Estrin:

And even the things we did with our series of computers are now done in a personal workstation.

Nebeker:

What about the networking aspect of it? Part of that was just to get the computing power in those days?

Estrin:

Yes. Or done by small computer tied in a network to a large mainframe. In about 1978 we introduced the microcomputer in DPL. Prior to this DPL used minicomputers. In 1970 we bought an early DEC PDP-12 minicomputer. All through the seventies we had minicomputers, and then at the end of the seventies we began to have microcomputers. Somebody had developed a microcomputer, actually in my husband's lab in the engineering school. We were trying to sell the microcomputer idea because the whole BRI had been wired to transfer signals. And we thought the microcomputer could collect, store, do instant retrieval, and then pass that information down to the laboratory.

Nebeker:

What was the largest computer you had at that time, at BRI?

Estrin:

Well, we had a DEC minicomputer, an SDS 930, then a 9300. The microcomputer would begin to do the analog to digital conversion in the laboratory. When I did A-to-D conversion in Dr. Brazier's lab, the signals were then transferred downstairs for analysis, and would send us back graphical results. With the microcomputer you could see many laboratories doing this type of analysis from their lab. Or if the analysis was too complicated as in spectral analysis for many channels, the micro could prepare the data tapes for the large IBM computer. You could buy a specialized computer to do "Average Evoked Responses in Histograms," but it couldn't do the variety of tasks a micro or mini could undertake, and the prices were almost identical.

End of Funding

Nebeker:

Was this '79 or thereabouts?

Estrin:

Yes. In '78 or '79 DPL had another site visit for continued funding. Since our previous site visit, NIH had formed its own computer committee. Instead of the computer experts who would visit, along with neurophysiologists, this was a computer group. It seemed to be a different group of neurophysiologists and computer people than I had known. We were told it was to be a computer committee. And I, in a sense, goofed by not emphasizing the neurophysiological work done with computers in the BRI, but stressed the computer part. I particularly stressed the microprocessor possibilities. The people who visited did not at that point appreciate the microprocessor, and several commented on its possible lack of use.

A second factor was that NIH had very little money that year. Your grant could get approved, but not really funded if money was inadequate. That is what happened to us, we were approved but not funded. We could use our remaining funds for phasing out the labs.

Nebeker:

Really?

Estrin:

Several other things happened as well. We had three or four very sharp programmers, working with me in the lab. They had been there from the 60’s, waiting for continued NIH funding. Also, the aerospace industry was recovering from its decade of lay-offs and could use bright programmers. It seemed like a good time for these people to leave. I also had become very interested in the IEEE and was spending an enormous amount of time on EMB activities. Thirdly, the BRI was looking for more space for its molecular biology work. We were told our basement laboratory would be given away, and we would be moved to a space near Ron Harpers lab in a different building. But all the methods for transferring data from each floor to the basement lab of DPL would be lost. Also telephone hook up was not in use then.

Academic Appointments

Nebeker:

You had an appointment in the anatomy department, is that right?

Estrin:

Yes, since 1960, I had an appointment in the anatomy department. I was a research associate and then a research anatomist. I was always called anatomist; that was my department. I also taught some electronics courses for a couple of years to medical people in the HSC.

Nebeker:

In the engineering program?

Estrin:

No, in anatomy. To people in the medical school. There were a few people who were interested in trying to get me an in-residence appointment.

Nebeker:

Was this appointment something comparable to an adjunct appointment? In other words, that you had to have funding from the house side?

Estrin:

Well, there are two kinds of appointments. There's an adjunct and an in-residence. For an adjunct appointment, you're not a member of the academic senate. The appointment is between you and the department, and either dean must sign it. But you're not in the academic senate. A professor in residence is in the senate. The rules for the appointment are the same as for a professor, but there is not tenure, as the funds are not directly from guaranteed state money.

In-residence appointments were very popular in the medical school because professors in the Neuropsychiatric Institute were funded by state money, which was dependent on the governor and not guaranteed. As a professor in-residence, you're considered a professor. You're in the senate, you can vote, you can be the head of a thesis committee, whatever. You have to teach, but you're not paid for your research time. The department may pay you to teach a course or two, but they will not pay your research efforts as they do for tenured faculty — even if tenured faculty does no research! It's up to the in-residence person to get their own research money. If there's no research money, you can keep the appointment, but you're paid by the amount of money you bring in. When I taught my electronic courses, I was not paid by the university but from my research grant money.

Nebeker:

Did you try to get an in-residence appointment in anatomy?

Estrin:

I did. A professor of anatomy, who today believes he's my good friend, was working with some young neuroscientists in his lab. They used the computer extensively. They'd come and do their work at night, and eat and leave all their remains on the tables. I finally prohibited eating in the DPL computer laboratory. Well, one of these sloppy young men got furious at me for this. Little by little he convinced the Professor of Anatomy about negative policies in the laboratory. I have just found his eight-page letter demeaning my leadership. When I came up to be voted on by the department, to be a professor in-residence, he blocked it, and I am also sure Molly Brazier did in some underhanded way. She was a professor in residence as well, and probably didn't care for me having the same title. I did get an adjunct professorship, but was disappointed and began to consider leaving anatomy. That was possibly a mistake. I finally got a professor in-residence in computer science, then I should have gone to anatomy and tried again for a joint appointment. You must have the same title if you are in two departments. However, I really was very active in the IEEE, and it took an enormous amount of time. I was on the Board of Directors of IEEE in '79 and was on USAB too.

Nebeker:

In the seventies, what sort of position were you seeking?

Estrin:

I was trying to get a professorial appointment.

Nebeker:

In computer science?

Estrin:

In engineering. In '75, UCLA was having affirmative action updates to try and give appointments to women. I was taken up for a professorial appointment by one engineering department in the School for Engineering and Applied Science, or SEAS. I was told my appointment was considered, but faculty said that the school had too many people of my age. They said if we want to recruit women, why don't we recruit young women and help the age distribution. Also at this time clinical engineering and biomedical engineering became popular. I was also trying to get an appointment where I could do research in biomedical engineering at SEAS.

Nebeker:

In what department?

Estrin:

Possibly in two schools: engineering and medicine in computer science and anatomy. Money was given to UCLA in '74 by an alumnus to form a biomedical institute called the Crump Institute. For about six years the school searched for a director. Jerry was put on the search committee for a few years. The committee contained members from the medical school and the engineering school, and possibly others.

I might have gotten an appointment with some Crump money if Chauncey Starr, a new Dean in SEAS, had remained in that position. He was interested in women appointments, and was interested in me. But he was only at the university for about two or three years, and he got bored with the position. He had come from General Dynamics in San Diego. He actually encouraged me. We became friends and went to his house a number of times. I had a discussion with him in probably '72 — in which he encouraged me to take an appointment in the engineering school. And I said, "Well, why would I want to take an appointment in the engineering school?" Then I'd have to teach courses, and in the Med School I can do research. I remember that discussion with him. He made a lot of appointments at the time and started a materials department. But he left in '74.

Crump Institute

Nebeker:

What changed your thinking was that you weren't so concerned with job security in the early seventies that you could do the research you wanted to do?

Estrin:

And I never realized the struggle that was to occur over funding for research. Research money looked very promising and it seemed silly to give up what I had. I was excited with the research I was doing. Time goes on, and it's '76. I'm still very busy in the BRI. Rasmussen and O'Neill are responsible for the Crump Institute, whose search committees could not agree on a director. Crump is coming for a visit and O'Neill wanted me to act as coordinator of Crump activities. To be the coordinator of activities he was not willing to give me any funds or any appointment. He really wanted me because Crump was arriving for a visit and they hadn't done anything with any of his money. I thought they wanted me as a figurehead and refused.

I was pretty angry with everybody at this time and wrote a letter to the Dean about the Crump Institute and why I wouldn't accept a token coordinator role. That was probably another mistake I made. Because today there is no Crump Institute in SEAS, and no organized biomedical activities. Crump Search Committees carried on until about '80 trying to find somebody to head Institute. They finally obtained an MD from the University of Southern California, Dr. Gene Yates.

Nebeker:

Did the Crump Institute have a building?

Estrin:

They were supposed to construct a building, and space for the building was assigned. Yates is a tall, handsome man, like the chancellor. You know, people say that often tall, handsome men achieve their goals more quickly. Yates is very impressive. When he was being considered, Rasmussen asked me to listen to him and give my opinion. I attended his lectures and did support him, though I didn't believe UCLA would get more than 50% of Yates' attention. He was a consultant to a chemical company up north and edited one of their newsletters.

Nebeker:

What year was that?

Estrin:

We're now in the early 'eighties. I was the United States Representative to the International Federation of Biomedical Engineering. I wanted a place to store their materials and advertise their work, and I spoke to Yates about it. He said, "That's fine." But he didn't have any space at the time. Meanwhile Yates never did what Crump had wanted. Crump wanted a medical person to lead the Institute because he wanted to do research and help develop new products for medicine.

Nebeker:

This is Crump you're talking about?

Estrin:

Yes. He wanted somebody who was really a leader working with physicians and engineers. But that isn't what Yates did. Yates is a dreamer and he brought in a man who was very theoretical, or philosophical. This man was a physicist, I believe. He thought there were basic mechanisms from the cell to the universe that pervade all of our lives. Very esoteric research. At the same time, Yates' people developed a small animal. If the animal shook in a certain way, when a baby was holding it, a sound would be omitted to indicate some infant disorder. He portrayed this jazzy little project when he spoke and appealed for funds.

The truth of the matter is not only did he spend the Crump interest money, which is what you're allowed, he spent all the Crump endowment money. He hired a place in town, which he rented, which cost a thousand dollars a day because space in town went for $2.75 a square foot. He was going to use the space until his building was erected. He was about to move in when the university caught up with him. The people he brought from USC, which is a private school, never paid a bit of attention to the whole structure of the state-owned UCLA system, and the money was lost. Crump people also entertained very lavishly, and all of Crump 's money was gone. That ended the Crump Institute, as far as engineering was concerned. The Institute had an awful five-year review and engineering pulled out. They claimed two schools could not run one Institute.

Nebeker:

And that was your involvement with the Crump Institute?

Estrin:

Well, I was there in the beginning. I spoke to Crump. Rasmussen often used me as a person to gain knowledge of the field. Crump actually told me the last time I met him that if UCLA didn't pull itself together he was going to give the rest of the money to the University of Utah.

Nebeker:

But you were never on Crump money?

Estrin:

Never. The whole situation was very strange. And the sad thing is that there is no Crump Institute in the engineering school. I was on the IEEE committee that drew up accreditation standards for biomedical engineering. My hope was to set up at least some additional graduate programs in biomedical engineering and to get some undergraduate courses going. In the BRI, I had gotten together a number of people interested in new engineering technologies for medicine and biology, and wanted to start a seminar. I suggested this to Yates who ignored the issue.

Professor-in-Residence, Computer Science

Nebeker:

So in '80 you got a half-time appointment in computer science?

Estrin:

I got a professor in-residence. That gave me half-time money, and I taught some courses. I taught a course called "Computer Literacy and Appreciation". I still received half-time money from NIH. They let me extend and close out our grant, which was almost twenty years old. I could have moved into computer hardware research in CS. I'm not a hacker with the software. In '75 I began to do a course with Jerry on computer applications in the health sciences. We continued it until '77. In '80 I began a graduate course on "Computers in Medicine"

Nebeker:

In the computer science department?

Estrin:

Yes. The major people I had in this course were people from the school of public health. There was interest in the school of public health in relating health care applications to computer management. By the way in November 1979 I edited a copy of "IEEE Computer" called "Information Science For Patient Care". I began to switch my interest from computers in the biological sciences to health-care applications or medical informatics.

Nebeker:

So for a number of years you were this professor in-residence in the computer science department?

Estrin:

That's what I was until I retired.

Nebeker:

I see.

Estrin:

For two to three years I taught an undergraduate course on computer literacy and a graduate course on computers in medicine. That was a half time load, which the computer science department paid me for.

Nebeker:

This is '81.

Estrin:

Okay. I did this until the summer of 1982. I was on half time in CS, when I got my appointment. In 1980, I was half time in the anatomy department on old NIH money. When I co-sponsored courses with Jerry in the 70s, I was paid from my NIH money.

Nebeker:

What happened to the final NIH money?

Estrin:

It was completed in '80/'81. In '81/'82 I was only on half-time salary, and I did apply for some grants. One was to set up a computer literacy and appreciation center where people could have hands-on experience with computer-learning tools. Then I applied for another grant, possibly in the AI area. But none of them came through. Then in the summer of '82 I was approached by John Slaughter, head of NSF, to become a rotating director of the Electrical, Computer, and Systems Division of NSF. Until that time, I had not thought of leaving the University.

Actually that's not completely true. In '78 I was asked to apply for a position at the Rand Corporation, to head their Information Sciences Department. Willis Ware, whom we knew from Princeton, was head of the search committee. He is a well-respected engineer who has done a lot of security work on computers. I went and was interviewed for this job, and was very well received. Actually, the final decision was between myself and a male. The Director of Rand, who is now Secretary of the Air Force, was interested in having me. He knew I was on the Aerospace Board and had heard good things about me. Many people at Rand were also interested in me because they have a biomedical group, and other application areas. They preferred me to a theoretical computer scientist. But the computer science people were in favor of the other finalist, a true computer scientist. It took about three or four months for a decision and I did not get the job. I was told that the president was a little worried about how the Air Force, a source of large government funding, would feel if a woman headed the information science program.

Nebeker:

Are you saying that he thought Rand might not be as successful with the Air Force with a woman as head of the department?

Estrin:

I was told that by a few people. Hiring was not as pro-woman then. The man they hired may have been a good computer scientist but he had a major argument with the head of the computer group, who then left to go to Stanford. It took months for the Rand interviews and the negative decision to occur. What I hadn't realized before was that I would have loved to work at Rand because they were so interdisciplinary. That's what appealed to me and I should have thought about a position at Rand a lot sooner.

Nebeker:

This is also just when you took the job with NSF?

Estrin:

I took the NSF position about two years later.

Interdisciplinary Research and Donna Hudson

Nebeker:

On this big issue of your not getting a professorial position at UCLA that you would have liked, part of that, no doubt, was because you were a woman. Part of it probably was these are interdisciplinary areas — both the public health and the research using computers. Are there other factors? What's your own concept of it?

Estrin:

You do have a good point. The Computer Research Association, a group of Ph.D. granting departments and industrial firms, puts out a bulletin. I am on their committee on women, and was asked to write a column for the bulletin. I decided to write on an interdisciplinary master's degree. I just want to read you the first sentences:

NSF now heavily sponsors interdisciplinary research, but the strategies of universities don't really support them, though there is talk of change. Also, at UCLA, the ethnic composition has changed completely. From the mid seventies a huge number of Asian students entered SEAS. These people were bright, but not yet interested in biomedical engineering. Without a unit in biomedical computing, it was hard to attract computer science graduate students. In '80, I did get a student, a woman, who went on to get her Ph.D. — her name is Donna Hudson. Her work was in artificial intelligence, and she designed a medical "expert system". I had hoped that she would do something with the EEG, but she then lived in Fresno, and could only come once a month and needed a remote project. I knew people in the School of Public Health, and one group had analyzed the effectiveness of chest pain diagnosis in the emergency room. If you came in with chest pain, what are the set of priorities and procedures that you did for triaging. Donna used the public health maps and wrote an expert system for decision making. At that time all AI people used LISP, which required a large computer. She used a small personal computer, which was new, and wrote a general program for diagnosis, which she then applied to chest pain.

Nebeker:

She used PASCAL language?

Estrin:

Yes, that was the common language at the time. She was the first to write a general program for AI decision-making asking sets of questions in this area. She was in AI when she first came to see me. The person who was her professor was in AI and had left UCLA. I introduced her to the medical area. I suggested my EEG ideas, but I realized that would take years and found this emergency room chest pain paper. She wrote a number of papers and actually has become very active in the biomedical engineering field.

Nebeker:

I think I have one paper.

Engineering and Science Division of Extension

Estrin:

She has a number of papers, all based on aspects of what she did from this specific case. Her program developed a general outline of rule-based decision-making. Her thesis makes an interesting point for the advantages of a professorial position. If you have graduate students, many of your ideas can get worked out and dealt with in detail. By not having graduate students as advisees, until I got the in-residence position, a lot of my ideas went astray. By not having graduate students, you lose a tremendous amount of cooperative work with students. Donna is now head of the UC-Fresno computer center, and is a professor in the UC system. When I left for NSF, I had about four students, but none were interested in biomedical issues and I transferred them to other professors. Before continuing with NSF, let me tell you about another position I sought at UCLA.

Nebeker:

Which position is this?

Estrin:

Director of the Engineering and Science Division of Extension. I knew that Ingersoll, the director, was planning to leave. His father had been the chairman of the physics department at Wisconsin. The professor who had given me a position teaching a physics lab, when I was an undergraduate student. Ingersoll was also my instructor for a hydraulics course at Wisconsin, when he was a graduate student or a post-doc.

I'll tell you a funny story about Ingersoll that happened in the seventies. Ingersoll met me and related that he was looking through his old Wisconsin papers, which he had saved. He remembered or came across a test that I had written. He couldn't understand how anybody could write such a sloppy paper and get such good grades and do all the work properly. He thought women should be neat. I laughed and probably said why should women be neater than men. Anyhow, Ingersoll was leaving his UCLA position to move to an executive position at a large corporation. When he told me this, I thought his position would be a great job for me! Particularly because of my IEEE experiences and having met so many engineers. Extension would be a good place to be and Ingersoll thought so, too.

Extension then hired a search firm "Korn Ferry" to interview candidates for Extension and come up with a small list. Korn Ferry is a very large search firm and very expensive. They must have canvassed the engineering faculty for names of candidates, because Walter Karplus, a friend and a CS professor, submitted my name. The search firm interviewed me in Washington. They then invited me to UCLA for an interview, and I finally got the job. One quarter of the position was to be paid by SEAS, where I would also be an Assistant Dean. Ingersoll was an Associate Dean. I returned to UCLA about nine months after obtaining the position, believing there was a great deal of entrepreneurial spirit in Extension.

I knew what video learning could do. I was particularly aware of it at Stanford. I was once on an educational accreditation committee for Stanford, and was responsible for the engineering and medical schools. The engineering school registered a certain number of Hewlett-Packard engineers, and these people paid twice the fee of the regular Stanford students. As a result many courses were videotaped and sent to Hewlett-Packard. I recall an article by the dean of Stanford, pointing out how beneficial the interaction of the students among themselves and how the videotape helped their learning. In fact he pointed out that people who weren't even in the Stanford program, because they didn't have the grade point to get admitted, also sat in video courses. Typically about six people formed a group and they would sit around and discuss issues raised in the tape, which they didn't understand, and ask questions of each other. It was a good interactive way, particularly if the group had a knowledgeable person who could lead them. I was very anxious to get UCLA involved with NTU.

Nebeker:

Interesting.

Estrin:

While I was at NSF, Dean O'Neill retired and George Turin became dean. He was very good, but he came and left. I ultimately got the UCLA position in July of '83, and didn't return until the next academic year, because I liked NSF and I said I would stay for two academic years. It was sort of ironic that after my initial request in '82, UCLA paid a search firm, flew me back to LA, two times, and finally gave me the position. Though I am delighted because I thoroughly enjoyed NSF and Washington.

Nebeker:

Was this a full-time position?

Estrin:

Yes, this was a full-time job, and twenty-five percent was paid by SEAS. I was an Assistant Dean for Continuing Education, and I also was the Director of Engineering and Science Extension. We put on hundreds of courses, over one hundred, three to five day courses a year, in addition to evening courses. For my first four years, Engineering Extension did well financially. The state gives Extension no money at all. Funding is completely from the people who pay for their courses. Extension is a large organization. To take an art course today, would cost about two hundred dollars while it used to cost about fifty dollars. Our state of the art engineering and management courses cost about 1200 dollars for a week seminar.

Extension now has a new dean; they have much less money because of the poor economy in California, and they still haven't worked their relations out well with the campus. Extension should be a very important part of the campus because of the diversity of our population, which needs many types of education in new and interesting ways. I brought the head of NTU to UCLA, and he saw the deans. We discussed the concept of Extension offering NTU courses? Couldn't we get into videotaping? Couldn't we do something to reach more engineers? But UCLA really had no capacity as yet for videotape demonstrations. The Dean of Engineering, whom I liked, decided to return to Berkeley as housing in LA was too expensive. The Dean of Extension was about to retire. I decided I should leave also. That it would be best financially for engineering to join with business and management. Funding became a problem in my last year in Extension, as the economy was shrinking. I was in charge of about twenty people, but there was nothing creative I could do outside of finding a new course or two to offer.

Nebeker:

And how might it have differed if it were freed from university control?

Estrin:

Well, it wasn't only the university. It was the lack of adequate funding. I left in '89. At that time the university didn't have video. I don't think SEAS still has any adequate video course, or even much video projection equipment. I needed funding to obtain that.

Nebeker:

So what would it have taken structurally in the university to have allowed —

Estrin:

Have kept me.

Nebeker:

Yes, for you to have been satisfied.

Estrin:

One of the things I wanted, which now Extension may do, is to give a master's program. We have several certificate programs in very good areas.

Nebeker:

Right.

Estrin:

But the academic senate would have to give its approval.

Nebeker:

But you were constrained because you had various ideas but couldn't get approval to try them.

Estrin:

Couldn't get approval at all. The Dean is the vehicle to approach the rest of the campus, and he was not interested at the time. Or had other more immediate interests. If certificate programs could not be extended to the master's level, then we should have considered supporting an NTU master's, which was approved by NSF. A number of universities cooperate with them. We couldn't do that because there was no money to even purchase the equipment to get display videotapes or satellite lectures. We began to try, but the idea evaporated. We did though give some excellent courses for one week. USC gives a master's degree via videotape lectures to engineers who listen to lectures in their aerospace companies. Many people would prefer to get their master's at UCLA then USC, but the travel time has become almost impossible.

When Turin was dean, we had many discussions. I was trying to convince Turin that SEAS had to hire an operations engineer or an industrial engineer as a professor to be responsible for the course, because the originators of the course, from SEAS, had all retired. UCLA has never had any industrial engineering at all. When departments were formed industrial engineering was not included. Turin was very interested, but he wasn't quite ready to use up an FTE position for a management professor. We had a two-day seminar on keeping this program. People who'd been in it came to support its continuation. Everybody who had connection with the program wanted it to remain. Then Turin decided to leave, and the present dean despite his stated interest was completely uninterested.

When Turin was dean, he was very good, but his family was still living in Berkeley. He was only at UCLA three to four days a week. SEAS was building a new building, and Turin gave charge of the construction to Dean Wazan, who was then Associate Dean. Wazan worked very hard and became good friends with the administration. Turin went back to Berkeley, where he was a professor before coming to UCLA. When Turin left, I still had one year on my assistant dean contract, so Wazan held out until that was over. I then went back to half-time, and taught technology and society type courses for SEAS and the L&S school, and a course on Women in Engineering for a special professional schools program,

Nebeker:

In '89?

Estrin:

I think so. SEAS paid me for one course that I taught.

Nebeker:

The school of engineering?

Estrin:

The school of engineering. Because I began to teach a course on Women in Engineering for the professional program. Well, let me stop for a minute. I taught this course two times, for the professional program. The course was very useful to the women, but the classes were very small. Your engineering curriculum is very full, and a student has no free electives. You do have some humanities majors, and there's a whole list of courses you can take, from Serbian to Russian. But my new course could not get on the list, because there didn't seem to be anybody able to change the list. Very few students were able to take the course without special approval. Women who took the course were in SEAS for an extra year.

Nebeker:

What was the subject of the course?

Estrin:

The course was called "The Engineer and Society." I taught a similar course several times where I had seniors and about eighteen to twenty people. Then it was a great course because we could discuss the issues. But with sixty people it became a lecture course. These were freshmen. I began by talking about the different branches of engineering. Many of them didn't know why they had picked the branch they were in. I handed out United States government material describing the different branches of engineering. Then we covered the history of engineering, talking about the British, French, and US efforts. One of the things that students read was "The Existential Pleasure of Engineering." I don't know if you've read that.

Nebeker:

No, I haven't.

Estrin:

You would enjoy it, written by Samuel Florman. He's written about three interesting books. He's a civil engineer who’s even spoken to the IEEE a few times. From '89 to '91, a few of the issues we discussed in my society and technology classes are very popular issues today. Why people in other countries get better grades than people in the United States, the low enrollments in different ethnic minorities, and what diversity would do for decision making.

Nebeker:

It must have been interesting.

Estrin:

We talked about the increased need for improved manufacturing in engineering. There's an MIT book called "America by Design". We used the first three chapters of the text. In one of these classes we even read the book "The Reckoning" which showed the auto industry in Japan and how it evolved versus the US auto industry and General Motors. Nissan versus G.M. Until I retired in July '91, I taught about nine classes relating to technology and society.

When I retired in '91, I was sixty-seven years old, and the University encouraged retirement, as funding came out of the retirement fund. You could then be replaced by a young assistant professor at much less salary. That was a good idea, but funding has now become so dismal in California, that very few appointments are being made, and many courses are being dropped. Talking about retirement reminds me of an Extension story and my being a woman. When I accepted the job in Extension, the Dean of Extension suggested that I be placed in the highest grade. But he didn't tell me there were eight steps in the highest grade, and I was placed in step 1.

Nebeker:

Eight steps to what?

Estrin:

In other words, each level of ranking at UCLA has several steps. In Extension there were eight rankings, and each rank had four steps, but the highest rank had eight steps. Each step meant almost one thousand dollars increase in salary. In Extension, the person who was Director of Business and Management was in Step 8. His division had made a lot of money, which had little to do with him because he was a complete and utter phony, which everybody knew. Business and management was a very popular route for people interested in a new career, or advancing their management talents in their own career. In fact I believe all five division directors were near step eight.

The rating of step one didn't occur to me until I had to rate my program directors who were typically in rank five or six. Other ranks had fewer steps because you could advance in rank, which you couldn't do in rank eight. I then realized that there were these eight steps in rank 8. I didn't consider the salary when I was hired. I thought I would like the work. When I left Extension, those five years for me were a waste. When I left NSF, I should have gone to another job, but I didn't realize that in '84. I could easily have gone to Hughes, or Aerospace, but I was really excited about what I might do in the Extension, and build a new program.

Nebeker:

You just felt frustrated in that Extension position?

Estrin:

I couldn't do anything new or creative. I was then sixty-five, and I thought I'd like to teach some technology and society courses. I like to teach about twenty people, with discussion time. Also asking students to do a term paper and to give small oral reports. I showed some films. I like to do interesting things in teaching, not just teaching from a textbook. Nor do I like very large classes, where you really have to be a good actor or actress to get across to everyone. I knew the professor who was the Vice Provost and Dean of L&S. They have an honors program, and I taught "Technology and Society" about four times in that program. I probably could still teach in the Honors Program.

Nebeker:

So you taught in academic years '89-'90, '90-'91. Yes I also taught two classes in '88, when I was at Extension. At UCLA, we are on the quarter system, with three quarters a year.

Estrin:

And I retired in '91-'92.

Nebeker:

And named professor emerita?

Estrin:

Yes. I'm named professor emerita as opposed to being only retired. I keep my office and my phone. I do several administrative things for the department, and am a member of a number of professional committees.

National Science Foundation

Nebeker:

You said that in 1982 you were approached by someone at NSF.

Estrin:

Yes, John Slaughter. I had met him through IEEE. He asked if I was interested in a two-year rotation at NSF. I really wasn't, but then he kept pursuing it. Jerry was going to have a sabbatical and come and join me the second year, not the first year. I went there in the fall of 1982. I want to tell you about my NSF discrimination problem '77. In '77 there was a Biomedical Engineering and Medical Physics Conference in Israel, and I was invited to come and give a paper. I also was asked to head up a student paper competition for the conference.

Nebeker:

You had approached NSF for something before?

Estrin:

Yes, for funding to attend that biomedical conference. I was requested to give a plenary address on information technology for health-care delivery, and I was also going to run a student paper competition. I believe I was President of EMB at the time, and found out from NSF how to apply for an international grant. NSF had recently changed it's rules, and by phone I was told exactly how to proceed. I told several members of EMB who were interested in going to Israel, like Eli Fromm. We all applied.

About three people found out that they were getting a grant to present their papers, but I never heard. I was sure there must have been some mistake. Why am I not going? I was the one that was giving the invited paper and I was conducting the student contest. I finally find out that I just was not approved, and couldn't find out why. One of the people who did not approve me was a Mr. Norman Caplan, who headed the biomedical program. I wrote to him, the Director of Engineering and finally the Director of NSF, discussing my case and the lack of women supported by NSF. I received meaningless replies from all. Well, the division I'm asked to direct includes biomedical engineering and the Deputy Director is Norman Caplan.

Nebeker:

He was deputy director before?

Estrin:

For about two years. When my application was refused, he was head of the Automation, Bioengineering and Sensing Program. Each division has about seven programs, and each of the programs has its own director and has four or five million dollars with which they fund external grants. Caplan had applied to become the Director of Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering, but Slaughter wanted me to have the job. Yet he was supposed to assist me at NSF, which was very interesting.

Nebeker:

Did you ever learn why you didn't receive the grant?

Estrin:

Of course. Because I was a woman, they didn't take my application seriously, and they knew the male applicants. When I was at NSF I was friendly with a lot of those people. Norman is a big flirt, and would like to have gone out to lunch and have conversations, for whatever reasons he had. I never would have anything social to do with him, though we were friends in the office. He once expressed the opinion that why should NSF give me international funds when NIH was supporting me. But NIH support doesn't give engineers funds to travel to international meetings.

Nebeker:

I see. It wasn't so much the merits of the particular proposal but whether they knew these people.

Estrin:

Yes, the recipients were known, and had all submitted their papers for acceptance at the conference. I was an invited speaker, but they just paid no attention to me. Years later, I become Director of their Division.

Nebeker:

Did you get responses to those letters?

Estrin:

Yes, and here are my letters of correspondence. When I went to NSF I was very successful. When I left I received a Superior Accomplishment Award, which I was told was rare for a rotator.

Nebeker:

So there's an engineering directorate, and there are divisions within?

Estrin:

There were about seven directorates. Each directorate has about five divisions with about seven programs in a division. My division was Electrical, Computer and Systems Engineering (ECSE). We were the largest division in the Directorate for Engineering, in employees and funding level. The Director of the Engineering Directorate left, months after I arrived. The Acting Director of Engineering became Carl Hall, who had come to NSF as a rotator. He was a fine man who came from Washington State and stayed at NSF for many years. In my two academic years at NSF, ECSE funding levels increased and we did very well.

A big issues that came up was, Should there be a computer science directorate? Nobody who was at NSF wanted another directorate, because it would impinge on their directorate funds. Differences in our division occurred on whether grants were computer science or communication engineering. The program manager for Computer Engineering only had two million dollars in funds, and needed an increase. The manager for Electrical and Optical Communications had about six million dollars in funding, and thought all of the network research were communication issues.

As soon as Erich Bloch arrived at NSF, he formed the Computer Science Directorate. ECSE became Electrical, Communications and Systems engineering which is the name today. I was pleased by the change. While I was at NSF I was treated very well, and I loved working there and being in Washington. We subleased an apartment in Watergate, with a view of the Potomac. It was great. Jerry joined me for the second academic year.

Nebeker:

Sounds good.

Estrin:

When you have one person who's the director of a program for many years, that program director has funded a large group of the same people over those years. They visit these people, are abreast of their work, use them as reviewers for new grant applications, etc. They often become friends with the people they support. These funded people become well known and are liked for what they have accomplished. Then a new young investigator applies for funds, and money is very tight. They just don't get the same kind of reviews, unless their original research is absolutely super.

NSF people always encourage grant submissions. The highly approved grants, for which they know they will have inadequate funds, serve to increase demand for funding in future years, by congress. Certain prestigious schools get a large percentage of NSF funds, though this has changed dramatically in the past seven years, as have NSF goals.

Nebeker:

When you were there, wasn't there an effort to see a geographic distribution?

Estrin:

A very slight effort. Changes to try and include more universities and colleges really started after Bloch arrived. When I came to NSF, the previous Director of ECSE had eliminated all funds for scientific aid to the handicapped. Congressional people immediately noticed this, and insisted that the funding of about two million dollars be restored. When I came this money was just restored, and I decided to try and hire a handicapped person as rotator for the program. We did hire Lawrence Scadden, who is blind. He was a great program director.

Nebeker:

Shall we turn to your IEEE activities?

Estrin:

Yes, but I have one more story. A few months prior to going to NSF I was appointed to a Telecommunications Committee of the National Research Council. It was for a three-year appointment, and I went to the first meeting. Then I moved to NSF. The staff director, Dick Marston, who had also been active in the IEEE, came and we went to lunch where he informed me that being a government employee I could not serve on the committee during my term at NSF, but would be an observer. A few weeks later he came with his assistant, and we met with some of the NSF directors or managers. (I use the two terms interchangeably) to discuss NSF funding for some NRC work.

Nebeker:

He's executive director of NRC?

Estrin:

No, he was staff director of the Telecommunications Committee. (This may not be the complete committee name).

Nebeker:

Why is that?

Estrin:

Government employees can't serve as consultants on NRC committees, but I could be an observer for the time I was at NSF. In terms of supporting his NRC committee, they must get additional funds for special projects. I had no funds available to support NRC at the beginning of my new position, and the program managers in my division would be furious if I took some of their funding support away for NRC.

Nebeker:

And also never admit an error.

IEEE

Estrin:

Okay, so now we're going to talk about IEEE.

Nebeker:

Do you remember when you joined? Maybe you joined IRE or AIEE?

Estrin:

Yes I joined AIEE. I do believe I am the first woman life member of IEEE, though I would prefer to be a decade younger.

Nebeker:

Combine your age and years and —

Estrin:

They must add up to one hundred. Well, I had an incident with IEEE, because they lost track of me. I joined when Jerry did, stayed a member, and my membership years were ignored somehow. I finally realized that, and it was corrected.

Nebeker:

Are you sure you're the first female IEEE life member?

Estrin:

I would think so. I don't know of another one.

Nebeker:

We could check into that. Was that in your student days when you joined AIEE?

Estrin:

Yes. I showed you a photo of our AIEE branch.

Nebeker:

Oh, yes, I remember that, that student branch.

Estrin:

Jerry and I are both fellows of IEEE. Probably the only husband and wife fellows. I also have another story to tell you. Through IEEE connections, in the late 'seventies, I was invited to speak to a deans' convention. I began my talk saying "Well, rather than talking to you about how to get women into engineering, I'd rather be a dean among you, listening." And I laughed, it was partially a joke. Afterward, two deans told me that my opening comment was rude. How could I ever be a dean? Since the mid-eighties, I probably have had about ten or twelve people write or phone and ask me to consider applying for deanships. By then it was just too late for me to move, or to seriously think about it.

Nebeker:

Tell me about your early experiences in IEEE.

Estrin:

Well, I was a member of IEEE since my university days. I always thought of IEEE members as conservative middle-aged men, who were doing good science or engineering and publishing interesting articles in their journals. I was always in the Engineering in Medicine and Biology (EMB) Group, later a society, but I didn't think much about activity in the organization. There was a woman by the name of Julia Apter, who was a physician and who died at a young age. She was on the Administrative Committee of EMB in about 1972. She began to write to the few women in EMB and I responded. She was a very attractive woman who was very hostile with men, particularly those in NIH and in EMB, and was always in a battle with them. She could also be very charming. She was the woman who proposed the Committee for Professional Opportunities for Women in IEEE.

Nebeker:

Do you remember the year?

Estrin:

In 1972. She wanted me to run for Ad Com, and was going to get ten signatures to put me on the ballot. I replied that I was certainly pleased to run, but I'd get my own signatures, and put myself on the ballot. Which I did and was elected to EMB Ad Com. I met Julia at my first meeting. She said that the men were never going to allow me to contribute, nor would they socialize or invite me to dinner with them. None of this was true. I thought that the Ad Com of Engineering in Medicine and Biology was sincere, friendly, and interested in working with me.

Nebeker:

Had it been much earlier that she'd had her experiences?

Estrin:

No, it was at the same time. She was a strong outspoken feminist, who was determined to train the men instantly to agree with her thinking and method of speaking. They were angry at her. She would stop a meeting every time the speaker didn't use he or she, instead of he. She was just very determined to train all men at all times, and they got tired of her speeches. She was also bringing a suite against NIH.

From Ad Com I went on to become president of EMB in 1977. Some of the people like Bob Plonsey, Leon Wheelis, Dick Gowen and Eli Fromm became friends, and I was very active during the next decade in IEEE. The Technical Activities Board was very active at the time and Richard Emberson, TAB Staff Director was very supportive and helpful. I even put out the issues of our EMB Newsletter, because the person who was the editor was at MIT and could never get the bulletin out on time. He was probably trying to get tenure.

Nebeker:

This material is from February '77.

Estrin:

Yes, here are some copies that I have from my time as Chair of EMB. I also began to represent IEEE-EMB in several other biomedical engineering societies. I was also on the NIH Biotechnology Resources Review Committee for five years, but was not very active.

Nebeker:

I don't know that group.

Estrin:

Well, this is a group in NIH that began, I believe, in the late seventies, who were responsible for supporting resources. It was the nearest thing to supporting —

Nebeker:

Instruments.

Estrin:

Yes. I was also an elected member of the Administrative Council for Medical and Biological Engineering, which was essentially an organization of engineering and physiologist Ph.D.s in the field. They put on an annual meeting with other physiological societies. EMB never put on its own technical meetings, and its finances were in poor shape. EMB was part of the Alliance for Engineering in Medicine and Biology who put on national meetings. I was at one point the Vice President of the Alliance for Engineering in Medicine and Biology, and was very active in that society, in about '78 and '79.

I was also very active in AAMI, in one sense a competitor to EMB. AAMI is the Association for the Advancement of Medical Instrumentation. They were concerned with the clinical and design engineer, less concerned with research and theory. I was also on their Board of Directors for a few years. They and other groups set up an Examination Board to supervise the training of clinical engineers for hospitals and to get them certified. This was similar to certification for physicians, nurses, and specialty technicians. Initially engineers could apply for certification, and if accepted by the Board would be grandfathered with the title of certified clinical engineer. I became certified not because I had plans to work in a hospital again, but I wanted to be "grandmothered." I have a letter for my certification, which begins: "Know all men ...that Thelma Estrin was certified." My certification was based on my work at the Columbia-Presbyterian Neurological Institute, and my work in the neurology department and Molly Brazier's lab at UCLA. I passed the seven years of experience requirement, and I became a certified clinical engineer.

Nebeker:

That's something. This "know all men by these presents..."

Estrin:

The purchasing of medical equipment by hospitals is not trivial. Who's responsible for buying the equipment? Who are the people who are making equipment, and who are the purchasers for the hospital? Biomed technical firms are essentially selling to physicians. When a hospital has to buy equipment and certify its use, some physicians suggests a firm, while another may prefer a second firm. What are the standards for decisions?

Nebeker:

I have a copy of it.

Estrin:

I saw an ad in an IEEE publication that this issue was to be published, and at that point I was very interested in attracting women to clinical engineering. You frequently find that women travel to new locations for their husband's new job. If you're a physicist, or mathematician it was not easy to find employment. Well, most locations have hospitals. A clinical engineer could provide a background for hospital employment.

Nebeker:

I think you can also say that with a new field there may be more opportunities.

Estrin:

Yes. But I'm not sure clinical engineering has really developed, and I don't know the number of female engineers presently in the field. My article also addressed the use of engineering concepts in producing new scientific research, and the use of technology in the development of new instrumentation and new materials.

I would like to have stayed in research at UCLA, in the medical school, moving towards diagnostic research with the EEG as a tool. There was no financial support. I also would like to have built a strong biomedical engineering component in the UCLA engineering school, but there was no administrative support. This year, an American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering was formed, with 150 Fellows as initial members. We met in Washington, in the spring. Having one organization, representing all disciplines of engineering engaged in biomedical research, makes it easier to deal with public policy and NIH. This is an external organization, not under NIH's rule, but a lobbying group to advance the important role engineering knowledge plays in biomedicine. I am also a Fellow of an LA organization, the "Institute for the Advancement of Engineering" I am also a fellow of AAAS, and was the chair of the Engineering Section of AAAS in 1990.

Nebeker:

Did you have more to say about your presidency of EMB?

Estrin:

As I said, we had frustrations with the Alliance running our annual meeting. The frustration was all the work, with no financial return. The Alliance did a good job, but kept any surplus money. We were frustrated with the Transactions, and that it mainly addressed only a few very theoretically oriented members of EMB. We needed a magazine that all members could understand, and was not as mathematical. Pilkington agreed to improve the Transactions for us, and a new magazine was planned. We had trouble with AAMI and their national meeting. What AAMI covered and what EMB covered. We were also concerned with clinical engineering certification. We were also very interested in recruiting members from industry and moving from our heavily academic base of leadership. Despite our problems, my best times in IEEE were in EMB.

Nebeker:

That was '77?

Estrin:

From '74 to '78. I was Chair in '77.

Nebeker:

And you went on to other IEEE positions?

Estrin:

My term was just for one year. After that we changed the by-laws and a Chair could stay for two years. I next decided to run for division director of our IEEE Division, which included the Education, Professional Communications and the Management Societies. I don't believe any woman had run in a membership election for the Board of Directors. Irene Peden had been Vice President for Education, which was an appointed position.

I decided to run for this office with very little encouragement from IEEE members. Dick Gowen thought he might run for a second term. Eric Herz suggested I run only if I felt nobody else, who was well qualified, would run. The editor of the Engineering Management Society Newsletter put out his bulletin, suggesting to members that they not vote for me. I was asked to write something of a certain length for the Newsletter. I did, but they only printed a small piece of what I wrote. I thought the Newsletter had given me unfair and unequal treatment, and took the matter to the Board of Directors. I listed all the reasons why it was unfair and unequal. Finally the IEEE Directors concurred that it was unfair and unequal. I did run for our division board member and got elected by a good margin.

Nebeker:

Is that public information?

Estrin:

It's public if you ask for the information. The participants also get the complete voting results, but usually they don't list the totals in publications. At one of my first Board meetings, we were going to give an award to Emily Surjane. She was a terrific staff manager of IEEE for many, many years, and was responsible for the Board. At one of my early meetings, the Board was going to give her an award, because she was retiring. She wasn't well, but gave her age as a reason. The written award stated that she was a charming woman who took very good dictation, and always kept the paragraphs straight. Of course she did, but she was a leader in her own right, and ran the Board, its committees and even IEEE.

Nebeker:

Were you the only woman at the time on the board?

Estrin:

Yes. Irene Peden had served before me. I was on the Board for three years, and we met four times a year. Jerry never accompanied me, as he was very busy with his students and his own research grants. We worked very hard at the Board meetings, from early breakfasts to night meetings. Meetings were very intensive, covered all matters, large and small.

I don't believe IEEE should have meetings like those today. The TAB and USAB Boards, usually met at the same place, prior to the Board of Directors meeting. The total of time spent was almost a week. There was too much duplication of major issues in each of the Boards. The Board would go over documents that other Boards had submitted, and sit around the room, with everybody changing words. You just can't work like that, especially today with the computer and E-mail. I'm sure there must be improvement. I liked the board. It was interesting, and I learned a lot.

The idea for USAB began after the lay-off of engineers in Aerospace companies in '68 and '69. I personally felt that USAB would establish the role of the engineer in Washington politics. Also I had a lot of sympathy for the people who were laid off, while some east coast engineers did not. I liked USAB, and some of the same people who formed it are still active. USAB has the funds to support travel to meetings and the old timers stick around.

Nebeker:

You're saying this may be something like the unions that get well-paid union bosses who stay on?

Estrin:

A little bit. Though they're not in USAB, just for themselves, but for changing the status of the engineer in society. If USAB was less generous with its travel funds, I wonder if some of the older people wouldn't have left. Though they work very hard on USAB goals.

Nebeker:

In the mid-seventies you were much more active in professional organizations.

Estrin:

Oh, yes! No question. I would say I spent 100 percent time in IEEE and a 100 percent time at work. I worked very hard and traveled a lot. My kids were finally grown, and I was free to do that. I put an enormous amount of time into IEEE from '73 to '82. I also served several years on the Long-Range Planning Committee, and the Nominations and Appointments Committee. I did get a Centennial Medal in 1984. In 1980 I was nominated to be the Executive Vice President of IEEE. I don't think I ran against anybody. Bob Larson ran for President, probably against Erwin Feerst who ran each year. You've heard about Erwin Feerst?

Nebeker:

No.

Estrin:

You don't know about him? Sometime I'll tell you about him. He was an unethical and dangerous man. The letters he wrote, and the newsletters he published, negating everything and everybody in IEEE leadership, were complete propaganda and mostly untrue. He did die a few years ago. The year I became Vice President was the same year that IEEE began electing a President-Elect, who was James Owens. I worked with and supported Larson on TAB. But the entire time that I was Vice President of IEEE, Larson never asked me to do one thing. He did ask the President-Elect, Owens, to do many things. In prior years when there was no President-Elect, the VP was asked to address many of the groups who requested the President. I just was never asked to substitute for Larson, who was head of a new company and very busy himself.

As VP, I became very active in the Life Members Committee and in WESCON. I was given that assignment, and I liked both groups. When the 1982 Board had our final meeting and luncheon, it was customary for everybody to say a few words. I got up and said that I had a very disappointing year because I was never asked to do even one item, as the VP. Now that made Bob Larson angry, and I'm sure it made others uncomfortable as well. That seemed to end my IEEE executive life. Anyhow I was at NSF, and couldn't really remain active. One or two people had suggested to me, particularly a man from Canada, that I run for president. Leo Young, who's still a very good friend of mine, had been president, and he had run by petition. I could tell that he didn't believe I should do that. I'd love to have a woman president of IEEE, but I really didn't like what the job entailed: extensive speech making in Europe and the US, representing men, who were not really comfortable with women as technological leaders. While I'm willing to fight for something I believe in for myself and for others, I just wasn't willing to struggle in IEEE any further. If IEEE leadership had wanted me to run, they would have proposed my name. But to go and seek the job by petition - I just was not about to do that. I also think if I had run on petition at that time, I would have lost.

Times have changed and I am delighted that Martha Sloan won on petition last year. I was very influential in getting at least three past presidents, put forth as nominees by the N&A committee and the Board. These men were considered, but communication among the members was poor because of conflicts among different groups supported. Other men could have become the nominee. I worked well with our Presidents, and felt the ones I had supported did a fine job.

Nebeker:

But you certainly didn't stop your IEEE activities.

Estrin:

No, I stopped in executive leadership. I have been on Awards Committees, and the History Committee.

Nebeker:

Just not going up the ladder.

Proposal for Judith Resnik Memorial Award

Estrin:

Yes. A few years after I left the Board, when Bruno Weinschel was President I had another interesting experience. Judith Resnik, the astronaut had died in the space shuttle explosion. She was an IEEE member who was in the shuttle with the woman teacher, whom you may recall. I had always felt that IEEE should have some woman's name on an award. I thought a Judith Resnik Award would be an honor to her and to IEEE. I spoke to Bruno and he suggested that I write a presentation for the award and proceed.

Nebeker:

That's interesting.

Estrin:

I also did other things for women. I suggested women who could serve on boards and committees of IEEE. A friend must have suggested me for the Haraden Pratt Award. I was very surprised when I received it. I had done a tremendous amount in IEEE, not only for COMPOW. I had given a tremendous amount of time to TAB and USAB. I think IEEE leadership had come to the point of wanting to recognize women. Irene Peden had gotten the award two years earlier. We're both waiting for the day when a bright woman gets a technical award from IEEE. In 1975, as head of COMPOW, I sent out this form letter to all the women members of IEEE.

Nebeker:

I have a copy.

Estrin:

Now COMPOW did not really accomplish much, but we did do a few things. We put out a "Women Engineering Student Newsletter" for several years, under Violet Haas, a Professor at Purdue who has died.

Nebeker:

So it was '75 to '80 that you were chairman of COMPOW?

Estrin:

Yes. We had COMPOW meetings at WESCON and EASTCON. Feerst and some of his engineers attended the very first meeting. They were annoyed with me for encouraging women to enter engineering, when it was such a poor career. They claimed: EE is only good for ten or maybe fifteen years at most; then you were fired for a younger person. How could you become an engineer and believe you would be employed for your working life? Despite their complaints, the few women enjoyed meeting each other. In COMPOW, we did some useful things but we were a decade early and only impacted a few dozen women. Our big event was in '80. We had a hospitality suite for women in computing, at a huge computer conference, and about a hundred people came.

Nebeker:

I have copies of your announcement.

Aerospace Corporation

Estrin:

I guess I haven't talked about the Aerospace Corporation.

Nebeker:

Right. We need to do that and women in engineering.

Estrin:

Well, let's finish my Aerospace story, and then you can ask me questions about the other.

Nebeker:

Okay.

Estrin:

I was elected to the Aerospace Corporation Board of trustees in 1978. Ivan Getting, past IEEE President, was the person who formed the Aerospace Corporation in the 50s. (Actually, I was on the N&A Committee when Ivan Getting had retired and was nominated to be president of the IEEE). When Getting was President of Aerospace, there was an Aerospace Women's Committee (AWC), to help woman at Aerospace perform their jobs well, and to get promoted. AWC requested that a woman be placed on the Board. Ivan Getting thought little of the committee. He retired in 1977, and a new person, Eberhart Rechtin, became the President.

Rechtin respected the Women's Committee and thought they could help Aerospace become a more enlightened corporation. He asked them for a list of women he might consider for the Board. The Committee suggested a list of ten women, and I was one of them. Most of the women were very well known nationally, and not engineers. Rechtin felt he wanted an engineer who would be knowledgeable about technology and he liked my field of computer science. Aerospace, the government and the defense department were very backward in computer applications. He proposed me to the Board, and I was elected. There had not been a woman on the board before. I was the first.

Nebeker:

One is elected to that board?

Estrin:

Yes. Aerospace is a non-profit corporation and their Board is called the Board of Trustees, but is equivalent to a Board of Directors. Aerospace is a systems engineering organization that works to facilitate technology decisions between the Air Force and its contractors. They also do excellent work in their laboratories and keep the Air Force alert about the cutting edge of technological advances. They have about four thousand employees, and also accept smaller contracts as well. Their approval is like the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Many of their programs take a decade to complete and they do advanced research that many companies cannot undertake. They also certify a number of satellite launches. The people who were on the Board are very bright and very sophisticated, mostly physicists, and not knowledgeable about computers.

Nebeker:

Did you feel you contributed?

Estrin:

Yes. Definitely! In the computer area I contributed a lot. Also, more women got promoted. The person who took my place was Ruth Davis. When I came back from the government, I might have returned to the Board, if I hadn't joined Extension. Extension was also a conflict of interest, because their biggest customers were the defense contractors and the Air Force. Rechtin was scrupulous about conflict of interest situations.

Nebeker:

Was that a demanding tenure?

Estrin:

I put a little time into the effort because of the computer changes that began to occur.

Nebeker:

You have in your list of topics after Aerospace Corporation, "lack of advancement." Is that related to Aerospace?

Estrin:

I've never been asked to join a "for profit" Board. There are two ways I have thought about this. I wasn't that useful at Aerospace. But I know that isn't really true. I was very constructive, and told so by many people. My second reason is that I wasn't on a "for profit board". Also in the 80s executives just didn't think about women for Boards. Today people are thinking of women, and a few younger women have been elected. My daughter, a computer engineer who is VP of Network Computing Devices, is on the Board of Federal Express. I don't do extensive traveling or networking anymore and am not really as interested as I was.

Nebeker:

It's the networking and the being visible.

Estrin:

Yes. In 1985 Jerry had a very small colon cancer. I decided I'm just not going to travel all the time.

Nebeker:

I have a few questions about women in engineering. You were on the Army Science Board?

Estrin:

Yes but I did not have the time to be very active, and then I went to NSF.

Women in Engineering

Nebeker:

You made a very striking statement in your Society for Women Engineers acceptance speech. After talking about outstanding women engineers from time past, you say that, "I would like to tell you that at least one of these women was my role model, but the truth is I was the first woman engineer I ever knew." That I found very striking. That you pursued the course that the war set you on in a sense.

Estrin:

Yes. It has to do with personal drive. If I had entered another field I probably would have also succeeded. I was good in math, which was important in terms of engineering education. I might have been a high school math teacher. Though today I will very often tell women, you don't have to be that good in math to be an engineer. You have to obtain at least a B minus, or even a C. You don't have to get an A. Engineering has many facets. I most probably would have gone into the humanities or become a lawyer as my mother wished. Because I always was interested in society and technology.

Nebeker:

I know you think that it's very important to increase the visibility of women in engineering and to have more role models for women.

Estrin:

Of course. But there just weren't any for me.

Nebeker:

Right. There weren't many then, and the few that there were weren't well known. One of the reasons that there are not more women in engineering, of course, is selection. Women just choose to do other things because society has made it usual for women to go in certain directions. And related to that is this problem of playing into stereotypes. Women are not expected to excel in math and science.

Estrin:

True. But have you heard of TQM — Technical Quality Management — which the Japanese have pushed and which is very much what we're talking about? TQM relates to team management and cooperating as a team to design and produce a product. Women are cooperative and work well together. Men tend to be more competitive. Engineers have to know and understand the needs of the purchaser of their products or services.

Actually I first learned about team cooperation, in USAB, from somebody named Bob Rivers. He explained how team teaching and teamwork is such an important part of engineering. Working together to produce a product. Now whereas men work together in competitive events on a team, you find much more conflict and confrontation in the male environment. While women really prefer a cooperative, collective method to achieve an end. I can remember the first talk that I gave at NSF. My first question was from the head of the NSF Board, Lou Branscomb, who was from IBM. He instantly jumped in and asked a small, possibly embarrassing question. Later I realized that his style was common in corporations-this jockeying and arguing over small issues, and neglecting the main points. I believe competitive and confrontational styles are now changing. Today, women are not aware that the purpose of engineering is to produce goods and services that will advance the health and well being of mankind. Few universities have an introduction to engineering as a freshmen course. The emphasis, in the first year, is on math, physics and chemistry. The courses taken together can become very difficult. Women are interested in problem solving of human issues, while the basic tenets of these courses are rarely related to real problems, and women drop out. There is no interplay between technology and society that might encourage freshmen women. Women like a broader view of what they're doing in relation to others. They're not as narrowly focused. Each engineering subject is very narrowly focused. Women don't fully realize that if they became engineers, they could have interesting professional positions, with many options.

Nebeker:

So the style of engineering today, with everything being done by teams and so on, means that women are good at it.

Estrin:

Very good at it. Even at the lowest levels. You're transferred around to do a variety of jobs, many interesting. You get together and discuss the problems. Communication becomes very important.

Nebeker:

There's also the problem that you alluded to, that — at least in some environments — promotion depends on your visibility and your self-promotion, and many men are better at that than women.

Estrin:

You do get some women who are considered very aggressive. They just have to be aggressive to overcome the barriers. Some women overdo that approach and become openly hostile, as Julia Apter, the founder of COMPOW, was. Men are more narrowly focused on the project they're doing than on the interaction with the environment around the project. Men are also more analytical, and women have a very good intuitive approach. Of course, I'm discussing men as a group, not as individuals.

Nebeker:

There has been an increase in the number of women engineers.

Estrin:

Yes to about 15 to 20% of the class, but the number has dropped in the last few years.

Daughters

Nebeker:

Would you please share with us what your daughters currently are doing?

Estrin:

Okay. Deborah Estrin, who's the youngest was born in late '59, she was just promoted to an Associate Professor of Computer Science at USC. Her research area is network computing and the security of networks. She is very active in her technical field, on a number of journals and committees. She has a son who's five, and her husband is in the computer science department at UCLA. They're both members of IEEE, since this is an IEEE history talk. Judy is the vice president of Network Computing Devices. It's a company that is about three to four years old, which went public about three months ago. They are the leading makers of graphics x-terminals that use research developed at MIT for displaying graphics in UNIX. The company is doing very well. She's also, as I told you, on the board of Federal Express. She formed NCD with her husband, who's the president. They have about three hundred employees. Judy's master's thesis at Stanford was in network communications in about 1978. She and Bill were one of the first people in local area networks with a company called Bridge, which was also a public company. Then Bridge joined 3 COM, and Judy and Bill left the merger and formed NCD. Judy's a member of IEEE, and they have one son who's two. My oldest daughter is Margo. She's a physician, an internist in Danville, near Berkeley. She has her own private practice. Her husband has a Ph.D. in psychology, but several years ago moved to the mergers and acquisitions business. They have two daughters aged seven and two and a half.

Nebeker:

She's the only non-engineer.

Estrin:

She's the only non-engineer. But Judy claims she is the only one who's the non-PhD in the family.

Nebeker:

Margo has a Ph.D.?

Estrin:

No, but she has an M.D. I mean, the only non-doctor.