Oral history interview with Jean S. Kane

  • 2012-Feb-27 – 2012-Feb-28

Jean S. Kane grew up mostly in Tenafly, New Jersey. Although her father was an accountant, Jean was the first in her family to attend college. She began at Keuka College, intending to get a nursing degree, but she discovered chemistry and changed her major. By her senior year she had finished all Keuka’s science and math courses and, with Margaret Cushman’s help, entered Mount Holyoke College and obtained a master’s degree in chemistry. Kane wrote her thesis with Thomas Zajicek at the University of Massachusetts; there she also met Robert Kane, a chemical engineering graduate student whom she married. Moving to New Jersey, Kane got a job at RCA, working on potassium tantalum niobate under John van Raalte, and solid-state crystals under David Kleitman. She left RCA before the birth of her second child and volunteered with the public schools while her children were young. The family moved to Vienna, Virginia, for her husband’s next job, and Kane found employment at the United States Geological Survey (USGS) in the Branch of Analytical Chemistry, working mostly on atomic absorption spectrometry and publishing about method development research. Inductively conducted plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES) replaced atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS), as it greatly increased the efficiency of sample testing. Kane took over the Geochemical Reference Sample Program at USGS, which attempted to categorize and standardize geological samples according to their chemical composition, using analyses from labs all over the world. Kane was recruited to the Standard Reference Materials Program at National Institute of Standards and Testing (NIST). There she was manager of about ninety reference materials; her customers included laboratories from all over the world, labs seeking a wide range of materials. She managed the certification of forty or so reference materials while at NIST and standardized the certified values, as required by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). Retiring from NIST, Kane remained on the editorial board of Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research, and took an active role in the leadership of the International Association of Geoanalysts (IAG). Kane discusses her feeling that the concept of materials standards is esoteric and theoretical and error-prone. She explains some of the difficulties controlling ultimate standards and data collection. International Association of Geoanalysts (IAG) requirements strengthened the data’s reliability. Kane’s contribution of greater precision in analysis and standardization of methods is widely acknowledged. Finally, Kane advises women interested in pursuing chemistry to follow their inclination. She says the subject is fascinating; women have become accepted in upper echelons of the workplace; affordable child care and workplace flexibility are more available than they were during her early career years.

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