Oral history interview with Uma Chowdhry

Oral history interview with Uma Chowdhry

  • 2011-Aug-24 – 2011-Aug-25

Uma Chowdhry grew up in Bombay (later Mumbai), India, one of three children. She attended British missionary schools, which taught in English, and became interested in science in high school. Having obtained a bachelor’s degree in physics and math from the University of Mumbai, she wanted to continue her studies in the United States and was accepted at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). She married for love, against her father’s wishes. After two years at the University of Michigan Uma and her husband entered the PhD programs at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Harvard University, respectively. At MIT Uma worked on batteries for ceramics professor Robert Coble in the materials science department and thus became more interested in applied science. Chowdhry accepted a job as research scientist at E.I. DuPont de Nemours and Company, which she says was a good place for research, with much funding and good equipment. She quickly moved into catalysis, networking with other disciplines, and became group leader, then research supervisor, of a new ceramics group, at which point she gave up lab work. She became a Fellow of the American Ceramics Society. Next she was promoted to leader of DuPont’s superconductor group, which produced twenty patents and twenty to thirty publications. But business experience was deemed necessary, so Chowdhry was appointed Lab Director in the Electronics sector, where she had to learn several businesses. Her sector developed a thick film paste for integrated circuits packaging. As business director of microcircuit materials (MCM) Chowdhry had to learn the manufacturing process, deal with customers, even work on the production line. As business director for Terathane, an intermediate for Lycra, she saw new plants built in Spain and Texas. Next she was made manager of the military market for the Americas, and then she became global manager. From there she became the leader of DuPont Engineering Technologies (DuET). She promoted the DuET brand and engineers to the chairman of DuPont, executives, and department heads, improving morale and garnering much respect for the engineers. Realizing a dream, Chowdhry was selected vice president of Central Research and Development; then Chief Science and Technology Officer (CSTO). She points out that she has delivered a very large amount of revenue to DuPont and developed numerous products to improve and enrich lives. She retired after four years as vice president and four as CSTO. Chowdhry has learned much on every job; she loves to learn. She praises DuPont’s corporate ideology and purpose and its core values, especially safety. She explains that providing food and energy are DuPont’s current focuses. She talks about DuPont’s mandate to reduce environmental impact in all new products; and new labs in other countries. Though retired she serves on the advisory board of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the nominating committee of National Academy of Engineering (NAE). She believes that the United States is still best for innovation, entrepreneurism, research and development funding. Globalism results in more women involved, but America is still the most equitable. Chowdhry emphasizes the importance of communication skills, networking, and mentoring. She concludes with a discussion of her awards, hobbies, travel, and family in India.

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  • 53 pages
  • 2 h 58 m 57 s
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Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
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  • Science History Institute
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  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

About the Interviewer

Hilary Domush was a Program Associate in the Center for Oral History at CHF from 2007–2015. Previously, she earned a BS in chemistry from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine in 2003.  She then completed an MS in chemistry and an MA in history of science both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.  Her graduate work in the history of science focused on early nineteenth-century chemistry in the city of Edinburgh, while her work in the chemistry was in a total synthesis laboratory.  At CHF, she worked on projects such as the Pew Biomedical Scholars, Women in Chemistry, Atmospheric Science, and Catalysis.

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Oral history number 0715

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Interviewee biographical information

Born
  • September 14, 1947
  • Mumbai, India

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1968 University of Mumbai BSc Physics and Math
1970 California Institute of Technology MS Engineering Science
1976 Massachusetts Institute of Technology PhD Materials Science and Engineering

Professional Experience

E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Company

  • 1977 to 1981 Research Scientist, Central Research and Development
  • 1981 to 1988 Group Leader, Research Supervisor and Research Manager, Central Research & Development
  • 1988 to 1990 Laboratory Director, DuPont Electronics
  • 1990 to 1991 Business Manager, DuPont Electronics
  • 1991 to 1992 Director, Best Practices for Manufacturing Quality, DuPont Electronics
  • 1992 to 1993 Laboratory Director, DuPont Specialty Chemicals
  • 1993 to 1995 R&D Director, DuPont Specialty Chemicals
  • 1997 to 1999 Director of R&D and Strategic Planning, Specialty Chemicals
  • 1999 to 2002 Director of DuPont Engineering Technology
  • 2002 to 2006 Vice President, Central Research & Development
  • 2006 to 2010 Senior Vice President & Global Chief Science & Technology Officer
  • 2011 to 2014 Chief Science & Technology Officer Emeritus

Honors

Year(s) Award
1986 Elected Fellow of the American Ceramic Society
1996 Elected to National Academy of Engineering
2003 Elected to American Academy of Arts and Sciences
2006 Chesapeake Bay Girl Scouts’ Woman of Distinction Award
2006 Recipient of Girls Inc. of Delaware Strong, Smart, Bold, award
2008 Member of Delaware Women's Hall of Fame
2010 Recipient of IRI Medal for outstanding technical innovation for benefit to society
2010 Recipient of Earl B. Barnes National ACS award for chemical research management
2011 Elected Distinguished Alumnus, California Institute of Technology

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

5 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads