Betty Harris

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As we at WiSE experienced firsthand teaching neuroscience to Girl Scouts last summer, sharing the joys of science with children can be an immensely rewarding experience for the teachers and an exciting, even inspirational, experience for the participants. Thanks to this week’s WiSE Wednesday honoree, Girl Scouts across the US are being introduced to chemistry at a young age and earning a merit badge in the process.

Betty Harris was born in 1940 in Louisiana. After earning an BS in chemistry from Southern University and MS in chemistry from Atlanta University, she taught chemistry and math for ten years before continuing her own graduate studies. She earned a PhD in chemistry from the University of New Mexico, then worked as a research chemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory. While there, she performed diverse hazardous material research, developing methods to de-contaminate hazardous waste sites, synthesize safer explosives, and detect trace amounts of explosives (she received a patent for a test used at crime scenes). Having spent time in academia and governmental research, she next set her sights on industry, becoming chief of chemical technology for Solar Turbine Incorporated (STI). At STI she managed research on a different type of investigation – the case of the corroding gas turbine engines – the culprits turned out to be sulfuric acid & soot). She then returned to government service, finishing her career with eleven years as a certified document review at the Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Classification, where she helped determine what DOE information should be classified and what could be released.

Harris has been a strong advocate for comprehensive STEM education, and thanks to her work with the Girl Scouts, girls are learning first-hand that chemistry is fun and exciting, not boring or scary!

Photo credit: Los Alamos National Laboratory