Wednesday, 27 February 2013 19:00

Ellen R. Dirksen, UCLA, First Elected Chair of WICB

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Ellen R. Dirksen Ellen R. Dirksen

The first elected chair of the Women In Cell Biology (WICB) committee, Ellen R. Dirksen, professor emeritus in Neurobiology at the UCLA David Geffen School of Medicine, died on January 5.

Dirksen, who joined the ASCB in 1962, was elected the Committee's first officer by the roughly 150 women present at the WICB "function" during the 1983 Annual Meeting. WICB was founded in 1971 by women at the Yale Department of Biology. The group soon recruited members nationwide and started a "WICB Newsletter" but had no official organization other than its yearly meeting within the ASCB Annual Meeting. When, in 1982, there was no WICB meeting at the Annual Meeting the group concluded that it had "insufficient organizational structure." WICB solved the problem by electing Dirksen chair.

Writing in the September 1984 issue of the ASCB Newsletter, Dirksen, who was a full professor in what was then the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at the UCLA medical school, declared that, "It is now beginning to be possible, for the first time in history, for relatively large numbers of women to consider freely a future in science without feeling that the choice is an extraordinary one. And yet we still need, for those of us in the process, a sense of community. For this reason, the decision was made to establish a more formal role for the WICB."

Dirksen earned her BS in Zoology at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in 1949 and her PhD in Zoology at the University of California Berkeley in 1961. She taught at UC San Francisco until moving to UCLA in 1974. She became a full professor at UCLA in 1982. (The department changed its name to Neurobiology in 1995.) Her research centered on the role of CA2+ intercellular signaling in epithelial tissue in the tracheal airway.

John Fleischman

John is ASCB Senior Science Writer and the author among other things of two nonfiction books for older children, "Phineas Gage: A Gruesome But True Story About Brain Science" and "Black & White Airmen," both from Houghton-Mifflin-Harcourt, Boston.

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