ACRS Scholars include Anne Peattie, Simon Goldsmith, Susan Sprainis, and Darren Hsiung. Not pictured: Jeanne Casstevens, Sacha De' Angeli.
ARCS Scholars include Anne Peattie, Simon Goldsmith, Susan Sprainis, and Darren Hsiung. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

When the Russians sent Sputnik I, the world’s first artificial satellite, into space on October 4, 1957, they unknowingly launched a women’s movement in America which would bring good fortune to higher education — Berkeley in particular — for years to come.

As Sputnik orbited the Earth, propelling the new Space Age and the U.S.-U.S.S.R. space race, it galvanized four women in Los Angeles to do what they could to help the United States reestablish technological leadership.

The following year, fueled by patriotism and idealism, they founded ARCS — Achievement Rewards for College Scientists, a foundation that provides graduate fellowships in the sciences, mathematics, engineering, and medicine.

The women who founded ARCS believed that investing in ‘science futures’ was the most productive response to what was perceived then as an educational crisis,” says Linda Dyer Millard, president of the Northern California chapter of ARCS.

The Northern California chapter, based at the San Francisco Presidio, has given almost $1.5 million to support 286 students at Berkeley.

“Reward is the key word — we are rewarding excellence” says Leslie Miller Schemel, ARCS vice president, whose mother helped found the Northern California chapter in 1972.

Bailey Meyer, who serves with Schemel as vice president, says the chapter’s volunteers — 200 women from the Bay Area — have raised almost $10 million in scholarships and fellowships for local universities because “they want to give back to the community.”

Kim Polese is a good example. An ARCS Scholar in biophysics at Berkeley in 1983 and now very supportive of ARCS, Polese went on to become a product manager for Sun Microsystems and a major player in the development and marketing of its Java programming language. Named one of Time magazine’s Top 25 Most Influential People in America, she is now chairman and chief strategy officer of Marimba, a leading provider of Internet infrastructure management solutions, which she co-founded in 1996. Polese also serves as a leader in outreach programs that encourage women to pursue careers in technology.

To date, over $41.5 million has been distributed by ARCS to colleges and universities throughout the country. With 12 chapters, the foundation remains all women, volunteers who start from scratch each year to raise the funds, of which 100 percent goes into scholarships and fellowships.

In February, ARCS brought donors and university representatives together to celebrate the year’s accomplishments and to honor the scholars of 2002–2003 at the annual Scholarship Awards Luncheon. The event, which was held in the Grand Ballroom of the Westin-St. Francis Hotel in San Francisco, began with a procession of scholars, led by the presidents and chancellors of their respective schools — the University of California (Berkeley, Davis, San Francisco, and Santa Cruz), Stanford, University of San Francisco, and San Francisco State.

“I am very proud of our 25-year partnership with ARCS,” said UC Berkeley Chancellor Robert M. Berdahl, as he addressed the foundation’s members and guests. “The ARCS Foundation is very American in the best sense, demonstrating the volunteer nature of American society. ARCS has been a remarkable contributor to science in our country.”

ARCS Scholars

Indeed, the investment in science futures at Berkeley, alone, will broaden our knowledge of how cells communicate (with applications for gene therapy), create new adhesives for complicated surgical procedures, make automobiles more fuel-efficient, develop unmanned aerial and land vehicles, and spur the computer industry forward.

ARCS president Linda Dyer Millard (far left) and vice president Anne-Marie Fowler (far right) chat with scholars Kenneth Easwaran and Darren Hsiung in the Morrison Reading Room of the University Library at the Graduate Fellowship Receptio in April.
ARCS president Linda Dyer Millard (far left) and vice president Anne-Marie Fowler (far right) chat with scholars Kenneth Easwaran and Darren Hsiung in the Morrison Reading Room of the University Library at the Graduate Fellowship Reception in April.

Kimberly Foster, a doctoral student in biophysics, is studying protein-protein interfaces which are frequently formed as a means of inter-and intra-cellular communications. She’s interested in the energetic components necessary for forming a stable and unique protein-protein interface and is designing computational models to describe them.

Chemical engineering student Sacha De’Angeli is working on developing new materials and techniques to manufacture inexpensive catalysts for fuel cells used in automobiles. Last year he worked in the advanced materials lab at Sandia National Laboratories.

Computer programmers will benefit from Simon Goldsmith’s research. He studied computer science at Carnegie Mellon and interned at Apple Computer before coming to Berkeley to work with Alex Aiken and the Open Source Quality Project. Here, he hopes to learn more about programming language design, to create tools to make programming easier and less error-prone.

Darren Hsiung’s research will bring improvements in high-tech industries. The experience he gained with optical fibers, solid state laser systems, and vacuum technologies at MIT brought him to Berkeley to learn about semiconductor microfabrication techniques and to do work in vapor cell nonlinear and quantum optics.

Technical problem solving and applied research appeal to Jeanne Casstevens, which is why she came to Berkeley to work in the Nanoscience Research Laboratory. As an undergraduate at the University of Texas, she interned for the Ford Motor Company in the rack and pinion power steering systems design group and also with the Explosives Projects and Diagnostics Group at Sandia National Laboratories.

Kenneth Easwaran’s interests may seem eclectic, yet he’s finding many connections between them. Easwaran earned degrees in music, philosophy, and mathematics at Stanford. He chose Berkeley’s doctoral program in logic and the methodology of science over graduate programs elsewhere, because here he will be able to continue interdisciplinary explorations.

“Fortunately, my fellowship has freed me from the teaching burden that many students have in their first and second years,” says Easwaran. “It’s allowed me to take several classes directly connected to my program and to audit classes that are slightly further afield, but which contribute to my primary areas of study.”

The graduate work of Anne Peattie, of integrative biology, and Susan Sprainis, of mechanical engineering, will help scientists create robots that can be used for search and rescue and other situations where human life would be put at risk. It would be risky, however, to put their research subjects side by side.

You see, Peattie is studying animal locomotion and its evolutionary history. Over the last three years she’s been involved in a collaborative investigation to determine how geckos are able to walk across ceilings as easily as they walk across floors. (See story above.)

In another lab on campus, Sprainis is analyzing the courtship pattern of fruit flies, a pattern that she says is always exactly the same. She’s fascinated from a controls engineering perspective (whereas geckos would see lunch). A former graduate student instructor for an introductory course in mechanical engineering, she enjoys teaching and hopes to become a professor after earning her Ph.D.

As she congratulated the ARCS Scholars for their achievements so far, Millard told them, “You represent our hopes for a future filled with the kind of discoveries and innovations that will lead to a greater understanding of our world and be of benefit to mankind. We are proud of our association with you, and we want to follow your careers.”

Gecko tape

Anne Peattie. Peg Skorpinski photo.
Anne Peattie and gecko. (Peg Skorpinski photo)

Like Fred Astaire in Royal Wedding, a gecko can defy gravity and scoot up a wall, across the ceiling, and down again just as easily as it can walk on level surfaces. How does it do it? With suction cups? Sticky secretions? Tricky camera angles? According to Anne Peattie, geckos have “dry” feet that happen to be covered with millions of tiny hairs, called setae, arranged geometrically to produce dry adhesion. Geckos, by the way, can stick to any surface, with the exception of Teflon (“the anti-Gecko,” says Peattie).

Peattie began studying gecko adhesion as an undergraduate researcher in the Autumn Lab at Lewis & Clark College. Today, she works in the PolyPEDAL (Performance, Energetics, and Dynamics of Animal Locomotion) Lab on the Berkeley campus, studying the evolution and function of the adhesive feet of geckos and spiders, under the supervision of Professor Robert Full. In the lab, researchers use tiny treadmills, platforms, and high-speed video cameras to explore, measure, and explain the motion of a variety of crawling critters. Their research findings have provided engineers with information to design robots adept at navigating rough terrain. In fact, the lab’s colleagues at iRobot are currently working on gecko robots that will climb walls (stay tuned, says Peattie).

Peattie hopes that her research on geckos will help develop dry adhesives that can be used for surgical procedures involving internal organs, as well as adhesives for delicate semiconductor assembly. “Self-cleaning dry adhesives are extremely strong per area and have low detachment forces,” says Peattie. “Unlike many sticky tapes that are difficult to remove once in place, gecko tape is strong when attached but easily removed because of its orientation dependency.”
Her research achievements have earned Peattie several coveted awards, including the Achievement Rewards for College Scientists Fellowship (2001–2003) and a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (2003–2006).

by Lisa Harrington (originally published in The Graduate magazine, 2003)


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About Lisa Harrington