A New Book Highlights the Ongoing Contributions of UVA Women in Nanotechnology

Pamela M. Norris, executive dean of UVA Engineering and Frederick Tracy Morse Professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, has devoted her career to engineering at the nanoscale. She is globally recognized as an expert in nanoscale heat transfer, especially interfacial thermal transport with a focus on thermal management across a range of length scales.

Now she is earning additional recognition for another area of her expertise: inspiring women to seek careers in engineering, and specifically engineering research and education.

Norris co-edited the recently released book Women in Nanotechnology: Contributions from the Atomic Level and Up, which includes four female engineers from UVA. The other co-editor is also from UVA, Lisa Friedersdorf, a principal scientist in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

 Norris also wrote a chapter detailing her research which she co-authored with UVA Ph.D. student LeighAnn Larkin, who will soon defend her thesis on nanoscale heat transfer. Norris is Larkin’s advisor and mentor.

The book is one of a series released by Springer Publishing Co. championing the pioneering work of women in engineering and science disciplines. The series editor is Jill Tietjen, one of the first female students to graduate from UVA Engineering.

Though all the female engineers in the book come from different backgrounds, their stories have some key similarities. Along their career journeys they’ve all received support and mentorship from both women and men, a practice they now offer to today’s aspiring engineers. They are all deeply curious and undaunted by challenges, which drives their passion for engineering.

It is no surprise then, with these women mentoring and teaching the next generation of engineers at the University of Virginia, that UVA Engineering is the top public engineering school in the country for the percentage of women earning engineering degrees – 33 percent compared to a national average of 21 percent.

“I think that women are strongly motivated to help others, and that they have very communal goals versus agentic goals,” Norris said. “To attract women to the field, we need to describe what we do in terms of the impact on society. Don’t concentrate on the differential equations you’ve got to solve, but instead champion the impact of the design on people’s lives.”