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By David Barnstone
When the APS Committee on the Status of Women in Physics (CSWP) was founded in 1972, fewer than 10% of bachelor’s degrees and about 2% of PhDs were awarded to women in physics. The committee caught the attention of Cherrill Spencer, an Oxford-trained particle physicist who came to the United States in 1974 for postdoctoral research at the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center.
“For most of my working life as a physicist, I was the only woman in the class, in the experimental group, in the lecture hall, in the department,” recalls Spencer, who, after a brief stint in industry, returned to SLAC where she designed magnets for particle accelerators. “I finally had some female engineer colleagues in other SLAC departments from 1999 to 2014, when I retired.”
In 1999, Spencer decided to include APS as a beneficiary of her estate. As a member of the APS Legacy Circle, which recognizes donors who support the physics community through planned giving, her donation will continue her lifelong work to increase the participation of women in physics.
Credit: The Spencer family
Born and raised in the UK, Spencer earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of London in 1969 and her doctorate from the University of Oxford in 1972. During graduate school, she had the opportunity to conduct research at the European Center for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.
“That was an interesting initiation—night shift on strange apparatus that my lectures at Oxford had not touched on, surrounded by French-speaking men,” Spencer wrote in an article for Linacre News, her graduate college’s alumni magazine. She was later chosen to present the team’s results at a major CERN colloquium, ultimately leading to a Royal Society European Fellowship that launched her career as one of few women in physics at the time.
Spencer supports and advocates for a variety of causes, from environmental protection to international peace. When her busy schedule kept her from volunteering her time, philanthropy was an effective alternative.
“I have crafted my current philanthropy to support the causes that I care about and the institutions that have brought me pleasure, such as orchestras and museums, and I have created my legacy donations to carry on that support,” she said.
David Barnstone is APS Head of Public Relations.
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