Dr. Thelma Estrin

Dr. Thelma Estrin

Professor Emerita, University of California, Los Angeles

Inducted in 1999

Dr. Thelma Estrin is a pioneer in biomedical engineering. Her work combines concepts from anatomy, physiology, and neuroscience with electronic technology and electrical engineering. She was one of the first to use computer technology to solve problems in health care and in medical research, designing the first system for analog-digital conversion of electrical activity from the nervous system.

Dr. Estrin helped design Israel's first computer, the WEIZAC, in 1954. She was the director of the Data Processing Laboratory at the Brain Research Institute at UCLA, and she published 50 technical papers on the use of computer technology in the health care field. She served as president of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and was the first woman elected to national office as vice president of IEEE. She also edited an issue of IEEE Computer Magazine. In the late 1970s, she was the first woman to join the board of trustees of the Aerospace Corporation, and her leadership on that board encouraged many women to pursue careers in aerospace engineering.

Her honors include a Fulbright Fellowship at the Weizmann Institute in Israel to investigate EEG patterns associated with epilepsy, the Outstanding Engineer of the Year Award from the California Institute for the Advancement of Engineering, the Achievement Award from the Society of Women Engineers, and the Superior Accomplishment Award from the National Science Foundation. She is also a founding fellow of the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

When Dr. Estrin was an engineering student at the University of Wisconsin in the late 1940s and early 1950s, her professors did not take her career goals seriously. Even as she completed her doctorate in electrical engineering, others considered her interest in the field only temporary. In 1989, she received an honorary doctor of science degree from her alma mater for which a citation reads, "Refusing to be daunted by prejudice, she demonstrated through the undeniable quality of her work that talent is not tied to gender. She has been a model for other women who have entered and enriched the field of engineering, including two of her daughters."

Dr. Estrin's three daughters are Margo, a medical doctor; Judith, CTO and senior vice president of Cisco Systems; and Deborah, a computer science professor at USC.