About the Lecture
The Department of Chemistry at the University of Illinois initiated the Sylvia Stoesser lecture series in 2000 with generous support from Dow AgroSciences and Chemistry alumna, Dr. Yulan Tong. This lecture highlights one of the early pioneers for women in chemistry, Sylvia M. Stoesser. It features an individual who has made outstanding contributions to the chemical community and provides new perspectives in the chemical field outside academia. Past speakers include executives from the American Chemical Society, Pfizer, Sandia National Laboratories and Honeywell UOP.
Sylvia Stoesser was born July 18, 1901 in Buffalo, NY. She obtained a bachelor's degree from the University of Buffalo in 1923 and a PhD in physical chemistry from the University of Iowa in 1928. She was the first woman chemical researcher hired by Dow in Midland, Michigan, where she was considered by her colleagues to be the finest woman chemist since Marie Curie. Her hiring by Herbert Dow, without an interview, was motivated by Dow's hiring of her husband, Dr. Wesley C. Stoesser, also a chemist, who told Dow that Sylvia "insisted on a job too." Over her 11 years working for the company, Dr. Stoesser was awarded 39 patents. Five of the patents involved the increase of crude oil production by the use of acid inhibitors in oil wells. Twelve patents published in the 1930's are considered her most significant, involving various aspects of polystyrene plastic. She also developed a non-flammable, non-explosive dry cleaning fluid using perchloroethylene. In only one case did Dr. Stoesser's name appear alone on a patent; she produced patents with 15 different male co-workers. She and her husband collaborated on only one patent. Dr. Stoesser's career ended in 1940 with the birth of a daughter, her only child. She served as a consultant to Dow in later years, and published in 1952 the definitive work on styrene entitled "Styrene, Its Polymers, Copolymers and Derivatives." She devoted much of her time in later years to volunteer work at the Midland hospital and the King's Daughters Home for the Elderly, of which she was chairperson, and where she herself died in 1991.