The Oregonian: Portland State University to celebrate Gertrude Rempfer, pioneering physicist who died at 99
Author: Kelly House, The Oregonian
Posted: November 28, 2011

Read the original story here.

Despite those who told Gertrude Rempfer she should pursue a more feminine career than physics, despite political views that cost her two teaching jobs, despite a federal law that forced her to retire at 65, only death could stop Rempfer from pursuing her passion for microscopy. 

Those who knew the Portland State University physicist say she would have continued the daily commute from her Forest Grove farm to her basement laboratory at the university for an eternity, if she could. 

"That was her priority," said Rhoda Rempfer Kameroff, 54, Rempfer's daughter. "Electron microscopy was her field and passion." 

Portland State University will celebrate the pioneering physicist's 99 years of life during a ceremony Tuesday.  Rempfer, stubbornly dedicated to her work, worked until just weeks before her October death. 

For context on Rempfer's contributions to the science community, one need only scan her lengthy resume. Rempfer's body of work includes five patents, 36 publications and accolades from entities including the Electron Microscopy Society of America and Reed College.  

Her work on electron microscope technology aided the development of military night vision goggles, and her advice was coveted among industry professionals from Tektronix and other tech companies. 

But in Rempfer's eyes, her biggest accomplishment was rising to the top of her field as a woman, during a time when "housewife" was still the dominant female profession. 

"She wasn't a (militant) feminist, she just quietly went ahead and did what she knew she or any woman should be able to do," said Rempfer's son, Richard Rempfer, 68, of Alma, Wash. 

Over her seven-decade career, Rempfer endured workplace discrimination frequently. She lost jobs because men also applied for the positions, according to a news release on her death. 

Gender discrimination influenced her decision to become a physicist. Rempfer was pursuing a forestry degree at the University of Washington, but switched to physics because the forestry degree required students to attend a forestry camp their second year, and Rempfer wouldn't be allowed in an all-male camp. 

"I really thank the forestry department for doing that," said Luis Almaraz, 64, one of the innumerable Portland State graduate students Rempfer mentored. "The whole science community and microscopy field is thankful." 

Rempfer balanced her science career with a home life that included mothering five children. She devoted free time to the horses, chickens and barn cats on her 8-acre farm, baking pies and making jams. 

Up until her final days, she continued advising the next generation of Portland State scientists. 

"To me, she was the best in the world at her specialty," said retired University of Oregon professor Hayes Griffith, 73, a longtime collaborator. "She had an expertise that nobody could match. Many individuals have profited from knowing Gertrude Rempfer."