Frances “Billie” Richardson

SWE Fellow and early member; professor and researcher who inspired generations of women engineering students

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Word reached SWE recently that SWE Fellow Frances “Billie” Richardson, founding member of SWE’s North Carolina Section, died in April 2017. In addition to founding the professional section, Richardson helped establish the student section at North Carolina State University, Raleigh, where she joined the faculty in 1951 as the first woman faculty member in the college of engineering.

Richardson joined SWE in 1959, and as a participant at the first International Conference of Women Engineers and Scientists (ICWES), convened by SWE in 1964, she represented North Carolina in the parade of states and nations. She also was a delegate to the 1975 ICWES meeting in Krakow, Poland.

Hired at the university as a member of the research faculty, she became an associate professor in the school of engineering and director of extra departmental degree programs. Richardson was a role model and mentor to generations of women students, several of whom wrote letters of deep appreciation in support of her nomination to SWE’s College of Fellows.

Richardson received her B.S. in chemistry from Roanoke College in 1943 and began her career as a chemist at DuPont’s Rayon Division in Richmond, Virginia. She obtained her master’s in chemistry from the University of Cincinnati in 1947, working for a while in industry before pursuing additional graduate study at Columbia University from 1949-51. Her subsequent training at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies Radioisotope Technique School spoke to her interests in the peaceful use of nuclear energy — one of the determining factors in her decision to move to North Carolina, as NCSU was building the first nuclear reactor on an academic campus.

Her research interests included fluid mechanics, infrared imaging thermography, radioactive tracer displacement techniques tracing the flow of non-Newtonian fluids, and respiratory physiology. Collaborating with a colleague, she was instrumental in developing the first biomedical engineering course at NCSU, which she taught. Richardson also furthered the development of a biomedical engineering concentration, laying the groundwork for the first ABET accredited biomedical engineering program in the University of North Carolina System.

Due to the significance of her research, Richardson received the international honor society of science and engineering Sigma Xi Research Award in 1959. She received the Roanoke College Alumni Distinguished Service Award in 1970 for her distinctive service, professional achievement, and responsible leadership.

An active member of several professional organizations in addition to SWE, Richardson was elected a fellow of the American Institute of Chemists in 1969. She was elected the first president of the Society of Women Engineers, North Carolina Section in 1979, and in 1980 was named by the section as the SWE Outstanding Woman Engineer. Richardson became a SWE Fellow in 1986. She retired in 1992.

Anne Perusek, SWE Director of Editorial and Publications

Sources: SWE Archives; The News & Observer