Katharine Gebbie, founding Director of the Physical Measurement Laboratory of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), died on August 17, 2016.
Katharine spent her career at NIST, where she oversaw the work that led to four Nobel Prizes in Physics (Bill Phillips, Eric Cornell, Jan Hall, and Dave Wineland). This achievement was directly due to her management style,
which placed the science and scientists above all else. In her words, "get the best people, steer them in the right direction, give them the resources they need and let them run.”
She was a fascinating individual, the niece of Katharine Blodgett, of
Langmuir-Blodgett film renown. Katharine credited her aunt with inspiring her devotion to science. She received a PhD in astrophysics from University College (London), and joined NIST in Boulder as a postdoc. She moved to Gaithersburg in the late 80’s and was the only director of the Physics Lab, which was in existence for 20 years.
In addition to her special role at NIST, she had a deep and important relationship with UMD Physics. The existence of the Joint Quantum Institute (JQI) is in large part due to Katharine. She had seen first hand the success of JILA in Boulder and was enthusiastically encouraging and supported the creation of the JQI in 2006.
In addition to her connection to the department through the JQI, she was dedicated to working to increase the opportunities in physics for women and under-represented minorities. She was a co-organizer with Donna Hammer and Angie Hight Walker, from NIST, of a Conference for Undergraduate Women in Physics in 2014, which brought over one hundred undergraduate female physics majors to campus. With Donna and Angie, she was working on a Conference for Undergraduate Minorities in Physics to be held this October, which will be the first of its kind in the country.
Everyone who knew Katharine will miss her and her wry sense of humor. She was a special individual.