Pioneer SRNL scientist inspires the next generation

March 1, 2019

In the 1980s, when Carol Jantzen accepted a new job at the Savannah River National Laboratory, she was one of only three women in her workplace.

“When I got to the Savannah River (National Lab) in 1982, there were only two other women in the entire lab,” Jantzen said. ”…There were no women in the group that I was in.”

It was a scene Jantzen was all too familiar with. Ever since her father encouraged her interest in geology and science at a young age, Jantzen was one of “very few women” in a male-dominated field. Often she would try to guess how many women would be in a room she was about to walk into – normally, it was around 5 to 10 percent.

“I took a mining geology class at Queens College,” Jantzen said. ”…They took us to this coal mine in Pennsylvania. They wouldn’t let a woman inside the mine because it was bad luck…but I made the best of it and went around and found some fern fossils.”

She was also no stranger to discrimination. Jantzen was required to take a class from a professor in college who “really had a bias” against women. It was one of the reasons she decided to switch her major from geology and ended up studying material science and engineering.

Despite her initially intimidating circumstances, Jantzen said publishing papers and proving her worth helped her gain confidence over time, which in turn removed the “artificial barrier” between herself and her male coworkers.

“As a woman, you have to do things that are more outstanding to be recognized,” Jantzen said. “But once that recognition is there, my colleagues pretty much treated me the same as anyone else.”

Jantzen went on to lead an extensive and successful career, which she reflected back on for Women’s History Month, which is March. In January, she retired from SRNL as a consulting scientist. Her work there led to the creation of the process models used to run the Defense Waste Processing Facility, the nation’s only operational vitrification facility for high-level waste.

She is a recipient of the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Research and is a member of a multitude of scientific groups and organizations.

She also played a major role in encouraging female students to enter STEM-related fields.

In the 1990s, she saw an influx of women hired at SRNL, and she mentored “just about every one of them.” She has donated extensively to the Ruth Patrick Science and Education Center at USC Aiken.

Among her donations are a 250-pound feldspar crystal, a large collection of rocks and minerals, and a 75 million-year-old dinosaur egg. Jantzen is also interested in teaching part-time at the center to encourage young students, particularly girls, to study science.

“I think you’ve got to get them interested in science early on, otherwise they get interested in other things,” Jantzen said. “I think it’s good to have a woman as a role model to kind of latch onto. My dad was pushing me to be a scientist, but my mom wanted me to be a home economics teacher.”

Jantzen named the mineral collection she donated to the center the Fredericks Mineral Gallery in honor of her parents.

“We are eager here at the Ruth Patrick Science and Education Center to encourage women and minorities to enter into STEM fields,” said Gary Senn, the center’s director. ”…I think an important piece is for young women and girls to have a role model like Carol. I think that’s going to encourage more young women to get into the STEM fields.”

Senn said the center is holding its annual Introduce a Girl to Engineering Day on March 30 for Women’s History Month. The Society of Women Engineers, Central Savannah River Section runs the program at the facility.