December 21, 2016

An appreciation of pioneering physicist Nina Byers

Radical Women is honored to be one of 24 community organizations that recently received gifts from the estate of scientist, feminist and peace activist Dr. Nina Byers.

Nina Byers (January 19, 1930 - June 5, 2014) was a prominent theoretical physicist, path-blazer for women in science, and Professor of Physics Emeritus in the Department of Physics at UCLA. She championed women’s participation in physics and was a staunch activist against war and the proliferation of nuclear weapons. She also supported many social justice and environmental causes.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Dr. Byers studied physics at U.C. Berkeley, where she received a B.A. with highest honors in 1950. She obtained her Ph.D. at the University of Chicago in 1956. In 1958 she accepted a research associate position at Stanford University, which led to an assistant professorship with a focus on superconductivity.

In 1961 Nina joined UCLA as an Assistant Professor. She studied particle physics and was the first and the only female in the Physics Department for over 20 years. In 1967, Dr. Byers accepted a position as the first woman Lecturer in the Physics Department at Oxford. She returned to UCLA in the fall of 1973, where she was involved in seminal work in a variety of areas, from particle physics to superconductivity.

Nina retired from UCLA in 1993, but was an active Professor Emeritus until her death. She also continued her efforts to increase the numbers of women in physics and document their accomplishments.

In 1996 Nina established a scholarly online archive, Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics, to document the historic impact of early women physicists. The website brings to life 83 women and their achievements in a variety of fields, including astrophysics, atomic, molecular and optical physics, crystallography and nuclear physics. This work was followed by Out of the Shadows: Contributions of Twentieth-Century Women to Physics, a portrait gallery of 40 outstanding female scientists, which Byers co-edited with Gary Williams.

Additional information on Nina Byers is available at:
UCLA Physics & Astronomy Department tribute to Dr. Byers
Los Angeles Times obituary

Articles by Nina Byers
“Einstein and Women”
“Physicists and the 1945 Decision to Drop the Bomb”