Jean Kane

Born: September 29, 1940 | Poughkeepsie, NY, US

Jean S. Kane 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. She entered Mount Holyoke College and obtained a master’s degree in chemistry. Kane got a job at RCA, working on potassium tantalum niobate and solid-state crystals. After moving with her family to Virginia, Kane worked for the United States Geological Survey in the Branch of Analytical Chemistry, working on atomic absorption spectrometry and publishing about method development research. Kane took over the Geochemical Reference Sample Program at USGS, which attempted to categorize and standardize geological samples according to their chemical composition. Kane was recruited to the Standard Reference Materials Program at National Institute of Standards and Testing. She managed the certification of reference materials and standardized the certified values. Upon retirement, Kane remained on the editorial board of Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research, taking an active role in the leadership of the International Association of Geoanalysts. Kane’s contribution of greater precision in analysis and standardization of methods is widely acknowledged.

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Interview Details

Interview no.: Oral History 0881
No. of pages: 125
Minutes: 504

Interview Sessions

Benjamin Gross
27 and 28 February 2012
Culpeper County Library, Culpeper, Virginia

Abstract of Interview

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.

Education

Year Institution Degree Discipline
1962 Keuka College BA Chemistry
1964 Mount Holyoke College MS Chemistry

Professional Experience

RCA Laboratories

1964 to 1967
Research Chemist

United States Geological Survey

1976 to 1988
Research Chemist, Geochemical Analysis and Method Development
1988 to 1990
Research Chemist, Coordinator USGS Geochemical Reference Sample Program

National Institute of Standards and Technology

1990 to 1995
Research Chemist, Project Manager in the Standard Reference Materials Program

Honors

Year(s) Award
1960 to 1961

Research Experience for Undergraduates, National Science Foundation

1992

Invited speaker at Open University meeting titled Geoanalytical Techniques: Current Capabilities, Future Potential

1997

Guest editor for Geoanalysis Conference Proceedings, The Analyst (v. 22, # 11) following Geoanalysis 1997

2004

Guest editor for Geoanalysis Conference Proceedings, Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research (v. 28, #1) following Geoanalysis 2003

2004

Guest lecturer at the National Research Center for Geoanalysis in Beijing, China, for three days; invited as IAG Certification Committee chair; spoke not only at the NRCG but also at the Chinese Bureau of Standards, Metrology, and Inspection

2009

Special Commemorative Session organized at Geoanalysis 2009 in South Africa to honor work in the IAG since its formation

Table of Contents

Early Years
1

Growing up in Tenafly, New Jersey; parents and siblings. First in family to attend college; Keuka College. Discovering chemistry. Margaret Cushman’s influence; admission to Mount Holyoke College as graduate student. Anna Jane Harrison. Graduate thesis with Thomas Zajicek at University of Massachusetts. Summer field assignment at Genesee Hospital and National Science Foundation grant, working on ligands. Meeting Robert Kane; courtship. Finishing lab work; marriage.

Finding Employment
31

Husband a chemical engineer; two-body problem. Moving to New Jersey; finding work at RCA. Project on potassium tantalum niobate under John van Raalte. Rigorous documentation. Solid-state crystals under David Kleitman. Kleitman’s management and personality. Development of liquid crystals. Organic chemistry with George Heilmeier; working as technician.

The Next Step
49

Leaving RCA; birth of second child. Volunteering with public schools while children were young. Moving toVienna, Virginia; job at United States Geological Survey (USGS).  Teaching herself geochemistry.  Using instruments. Inductively-conducted plasma optical emission spectrometry (ICP-OES). Atomic absorption spectrometry (AAS). Organizational structure of USGS. Branch of Analytical Chemistry (BAL) in Geologic Division. Small group, collegial; grew more confident. Learning new techniques. Service division; more women but not doing their own research.  Publishing about method development research.

Working at USGS
53

ICP-OES and AAS. Organizational structure of USGS. Method development research. Testing ICP; how instrumentation and techniques developed; sample preparation. Working with James Harnley and Nancy Miller-Ihli of US Department of Agriculture on ICP instrument; built her own at USGS. Daniel Golightly. Development protocol. From single-element testing to multielement. Taking over Geochemical Reference Sample Program from Frank Flanagan. Conferences, especially Geoanalysis. Field trip to mines.

Geochemical Reference Sample Program
81

Standardizing rock analyses. Rock compositions. Hand-written tables published as USGS Bulletins. Organizing data from international labs doing analysis of USGS samples. Devonian Ohio Shale (SDO) reference values for publication. Finishing SDO, disseminating gold, and coal before going to National Institute of Standards and Technology. Geostandards Newsletter editorial board; Philip Potts editor; complying with International Organization for Standardization guidelines. Finding support of her standards materials work in Canada and United Kingdom.

National Institutes of Standards and Technology
99

Standard Reference Materials Program. William Reed and Thomas Gills. Identifying problem areas. US Environmental Protection Agency joins NIST to begin determining pollution standards. Kane project manager of ninety reference materials, most in stock. Finished thirty to forty reference materials in two or so years at NIST. Difficulties controlling ultimate standard and data collection. International Association of Geoanalysts requirements. Publications and talks while at NIST. Mentoring. Arati Prabhakar head of NIST, one of few highly-placed women. Culture at NIST. Kane’s retirement.

Retirement
113

Retiring from NIST, remaining on board of Geostandards and Geoanalytical Research. Geostandards established with money left over from Geoanalysis, which itself had been established as educational outlet. Changes in technologies available from bulk to microanalysis. Geoanalysis session dedicated to her contributions—a tribute. Advice for women interested in chemistry: subject fascinating; child care now more available; workplace more flexible; women accepted.

Afterword
121
Index
122

About the Interviewer

Benjamin Gross

Benjamin Gross studies the history of corporate science and the American consumer electronics industry. He is currently a postdoctoral fellow in the Chemical Heritage Foundation’s Institute for Research, where he oversees a variety of projects related to material innovation. He also serves as curator of the Sarnoff Collection at The College of New Jersey and oversaw the development of “Innovations That Changed the World,” an exhibition on RCA’s contributions to the history of electronics. Dr. Gross earned a PhD in the history of science from Princeton University and recently completed a book manuscript on RCA and the creation of the first liquid crystal displays.