I knew that if I failed, there wouldn’t be another woman on the Antarctic continent for a generation….
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Professor Irene Peden making an appeal for more women to join the engineering field.
Beginning in the early 1960s, UW Professors H. Myron Swarm and Donald Reynolds initiated unprecedented on-site research in the Antarctic, studying the behavior of very low-frequency radio waves between the ice and stone beneath, and the ionosphere – one of the layers of the earth’s atmosphere - above.
Scientists working in the Antarctic interior faced brutal conditions - numbing cold, dangerous storms, spartan accommodations, extreme isolation, and many other hardships. But in addition to those difficulties, UW researcher Irene Peden faced another obstacle - her gender. Peden joined the UW in 1961 in the Department of Electrical Engineering, the first woman hired to the College of Engineering faculty. In 1970, against much opposition, Peden became the first woman to conduct field research in the Antarctic interior.
Peden developed new methods to measure the electromagnetic properties of the Antarctic ice sheet and of the underlying terrain, data critical to communications and navigation in the South Polar Region. The ionosphere’s lower layers and the ice and terrain create a "sandwich" at the Antarctic surface within which radio waves bounce back and forth, and propagate over long distances.
She has received multiple honors – including the naming of the Peden Cliffs along Garfield Glacier, deep in the Antarctic.