Chemistry Laboratory. Image credit: Bentley Library Image Bank

Early Years

Women were admitted to the University of Michigan in 1870, some thirty years after the first classes were offered in 1840. Women students appeared in laboratories and lectures, though it would be another seventy-five years before the first woman was added to the Department of Chemistry faculty,  and yet another twenty  years before the first woman professor was added to the tenure track. 

Isabella Lugoski Karle and Jerome Karle, Naval Research Laboratory

Isabella Lugoski Karle

 (1921-2017), a pioneer in the field of crystallography and first woman added to faculty though she stayed only a year

Isabella Lugoski was born in Detroit, Michigan to immigrant parents. When she started in the public schools in Detroit, she spoke no English. However, she was a precocious student and skipped several grades. At 16, she got a scholarship to the University of Michigan where she studied Chemistry. She earned a B.S., M.A, and PhD all by the age of 23. She met Jerome Karle in a Physical Chemistry class where they were at adjoining lab tables because students were seated alphabetically. They were married in 1942. After completing their PhDs, they left Michigan for the Manhattan Project. There Isabella successfully developed a process for preparation of the then unknown plutonium chloride from the oxide. Jerome and Isabella returned to the University of Michigan for a year. She was a popular lecturer and the first woman faculty member of the Department of Chemistry. In 1946, Jerome began working at US Naval Research Laboratory. She joined him there a few months later, shortly after the birth of their first daughter. From 1959 until her retirement in 2009 she was the Head of the X-Ray Analysis Section.

To determine the structure of a molecule using X-ray crystallography, the crystal is placed in a beam of X-rays, which bounce off the atoms and form patterns that tell the chemists how the atoms are arranged in the crystal.

Isabella and Jerome Karle developed methods for determining the crystal structures of molecules that opened the field of crystallography to applications in chemistry, biology and medicine. Jerome laid the mathematical grounding and Isabella built the apparatus and collected the data that showed his equations worked. Based on their methods, it became possible to analyze complex molecules in a matter of days that previously would have taken years.

Jerome Karle and Herbert Hauptman were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1985 for “devising direct methods of determining complex crystal structures by using X-ray diffraction analysis.” Jerome was very disappointed that Isabella didn’t share in it. She was less upset and was happy to be recognized with many awards over her career, including the Women in Science and Engineering’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and National Medal of Science in 1995.

Her survivors include her three daughters— two are chemists who earned their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan and one is a geologist.

Seyhan Ege

Seyhan Nurettin Eğe

1931 - 2007,  first woman tenured and full professor on the Chemistry faculty, a committed and inspiring mentor to students & younger colleagues

Seyhan Eğe spent her early childhood in New York where her father, Ragip Nurettin Eğe, represented the Turkish Republic as Cultural Attachè to the United States of America. After returning to Istanbul upon the advent of WW II, Seyhan attended the American College for Girls, graduating with honors. In 1950 she came to the United States and attended Smith College, receiving her masters degree in chemistry in 1952. She subsequently received her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from the University of Michigan with Peter A. S. Smith in 1956. After teaching briefly at her Alma Mater in Istanbul and subsequently at Mount Holyoke College, Dr Eğe returned to the University of Michigan in 1965, and became the first tenured woman and the first woman full professor on the faculty of the Department of Chemistry. Her research interests involved the photochemistry of heterocyclic compounds and reactive intermediates in photochemical reactions. She retired from the faculty in 2001 and then taught chemistry at Rudolf Steiner High School in Ann Arbor.

Professor Eğe was a distinguished educator, promoting innovative approaches to the teaching of chemistry. She authored a textbook, Organic Chemistry: Structure and Reactivity, which appeared in five editions, between 1984-2004, and has been translated into Spanish, Italian and Chinese.

She was widely acknowledged as contributing to the modernization of the way organic chemistry is taught, particularly for the use of acid-base chemistry as an early introduction to structure-reactivity relationships, the emphasis on mechanism as a conceptual organizer, and the rigorous use of the primary literature in writing an introductory textbook.

She served the Department of Chemistry in many capacities, as a dedicated teacher and as its first Associate Chair for Curriculum and Faculty Affairs. Between 1989-91, she led the implementation of the Department of Chemistry’s undergraduate curriculum reform, which eliminated general chemistry for large numbers of incoming students and started them off in the organic course, and reduced the general course to one semester for the rest of the entering students.

Nationally, she co-authored the 1994 NSF Report “Innovation and Change in the Chemistry Curriculum,” and was the General Chair of the 16th Biennial Conference on Chemical Education in 2000.

She received the Amoco, Phi Lambda Upsilon, and the Chemical Manufacturers Association Excellence in College Chemistry Teaching Awards and was named Arthur F. Thurnau Professor in 1990. For her scholarship, innovation in teaching and tireless effort on behalf of women students, she was the 2003 recipient of the Sarah Goddard Power Award from the Academic Women's Caucus of the University of Michigan.

Professor Eğe was a strong advocate for the department's undergraduate students and for undergraduate learning in general. She was a mentor, counselor, and advisor to thousands of students. She made chemistry a lively activity and motivated students to pursue careers in science. She was one of the founders of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at U-M.

 She died in 2007 at the age of 76.



Seyhan Eğe

Isabella Karle

Karle: Photo courtesy U.S. Naval Research Laboratory