The Department Celebrates the New Hertha Sponer Biography

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

On April 5, 2012, the Department of Physics celebrated the unveiling of the English version of Prof. Hertha Sponer's biography, which is now available both as an e-book and as paperback and hardback. The well-attended event included introductory remarks by Dean Robert Calderbank, Dean Laurie Patton and Vice Provost Nancy Allen. After these remarks, Dr. Marie-Ann Maushart, the author of the original biography, described the process by which she selected this project for her PhD dissertation, the difficulties she faced in convincing her mentor to support it, and the research process for uncovering information about Prof. Sponer. Dr. Maushart was followed by Prof. Brenda Winnewisser, the principal organizer and editor of the English translation, who described her own interest in the history of Prof. Sponer and her thoughts of her time in the Department of Physics around the time of Prof. Sponer's retirement. Next, Dr. Ralph Morris, the English translator, described how he was contacted by Prof. Winnewisser, how he managed to undertake the translation while fully employed, and how he enjoyed learning some of Prof. Sponer's science during the process. These stories were followed by a lively discussion of Prof. Sponer, her life at Duke, and the difficulties women faced and continue to face in the sciences. There were also several comments about the fact that Prof. Sponer left a long written legacy of her life and work, as well as the difficulty historians might have in the future documenting the activities of current scientists, given the possible transitory nature of digital records. After the presentation, the speakers were taken to the Chair's Conference Room in Department of Physics to view the portrait of Prof. Sponer by Marianne Manasse (ca. 1948).

Both Profs. Daniel Gauthier and Horst Meyer were significantly involved in making possible the English version of the biography.