Esther M. Conwell

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Esther M. Conwell
Born (1922-05-23)May 23, 1922
New York
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Rochester, New York
Residence Rochester, New York
Fields Physics
Institutions University of Rochester
Bell Laboratories
Notable awards IEEE Edison Medal (1997)
National Medal of Science

Esther Marley Conwell (May 23, 1922 – November 16, 2014) was a pioneering American chemist and physicist who studied properties of semiconductors and organic conductors, especially electron transport. She is best known for her work elucidating how electrons travel through semiconductors, an accomplishment that helped revolutionize modern computing.[1][2]


She obtained a B.A. from Brooklyn College in 1942, an M.S. from the University of Rochester in 1945, and a Ph.D. in 1948, from the University of Chicago, all in physics.


Afer her first year of graduate school, she was employed by Western Electric as an assistant engineer. At the time, payroll did not have a job title code for female assistant engineers so her title was changed and her pay reduced to fit an existing code.

She was an instructor in physics at Brooklyn College (1946–1951), a researcher at Bell Laboratories (1951–1952), and a staff member at GTE Laboratories (1952–1972).

In 1972 she joined the Xerox Wilson Research Center, where she was a Research Fellow from 1981 to 1998. In 1998, Conwell joined the University of Rochester, where she was a professor of chemistry and of physics. She earned four patents and published more than 200 papers.

Her son, Lewis Rothberg, is also a tenured Physics and Physical Chemistry Professor at the University of Rochester; his research focuses on organic electronics and biomolecular sensing using laser energetics.

Honors and awards

In November 2002, Discover magazine listed Conwell as one of the 50 most important women scientists at the time.[1]

Conwell was a fellow of the IEEE and the American Physical Society. She was also a member of the National Academy of Engineering, National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She had received the Achievement Award of the Society of Women Engineers and an Honorary D.Sc. from Brooklyn College. She received the 1997 IEEE Edison Medal for "fundamental contributions to transport theory in semiconductor and organic conductors, and their application to the semiconductor, electronic copying and printing industries."

The ACS Award for Encouraging Women into Careers in the Chemical Sciences was awarded to her in 2008.[3]

In 2010, Conwell received the prestigious National Medal of Science from President Barack Obama, for "her broad contributions to understanding electron and hole transport in semiconducting materials, which helped to enable commercial applications of semiconductor and organic electronic devices, and for extending her analysis to studying the electronic properties of DNA."[4]


On November 16, 2014, Conwell was walking when she was struck by her neighbor's car as he was backing out of his driveway. Capt. David Catholdi of the Brighton Police Department stated that alcohol and speed were not factors in the incident. She was taken to Strong Memorial Hospital, where she died from her injuries several hours later. She was 92 years old.[2]


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