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In memoriam: Eugenie V. Mielczarek, founding professor of Mason's Physics Department

July 31, 2017   /   by John Hollis

Eugenie Mielczarek

Eugenie “Jean” V. Mielczarek, the founding professor of George Mason University’s Physics Department, died on June 26 at the age of 86.

Mielczarek was renowned for her work in biological physics. Early in her career, she studied solid-state metals before transitioning to metals in biological environments. Her later research was in solid-state, low-temperature physics, semi-conductors, Mossbauer spectroscopy of metal and biological compounds, and Fermi surfaces of metals.

In addition to her research, Mielczarek taught physics courses, many to non-physics majors. She co-authored “Iron, Nature’s Universal Element: Why People Need Iron and Animals Make Magnets” and co-edited “Biological Physics.”

“Jean helped champion diversity of thought, research and leadership in George Mason’s physics department,” said Peggy Agouris, dean of Mason’s College of Science. “Although today’s College of Science is known for its diverse body of students, leaders and mentors, it’s important to recognize the significant role Jean played as the first female physicist at George Mason University.”

The presence of a senior woman in a decision-making role helped assure women applying to the program that they would be looked at equitably, Agouris said Mielczarek told Science magazine in October 2006.

“That simple fact meant that we were always able to select good faculty, regardless of gender,” Agouris said. “I thank her for blazing a path for female scientists at Mason.”

Dimitrios Papaconstantopoulos became the department’s second full-time faculty member when Mielczarek hired him as an assistant professor in February 1967. He watched her design the curriculum for the program’s first two years and build the first labs.

Papaconstantopoulos credited Mielczarek for the positive influence she had on others, as well as his own career with her constructive advice on research opportunities and higher education in the United States.

“It was a wonderful experience to work with her developing syllabi for the advanced courses,” said Papaconstantopoulos, now a professor emeritus in Mason’s Department of Computational and Data Sciences. “She was an excellent teacher with a strong desire to maintain high standards for the program. She was very good in helping students both in their studies and their career directions.”

Mielczarek spent 35 years empowering students at Mason before retiring in 1999.

“She absolutely loved her work,” said her daughter, Mary Mielczarek. “She loved teaching and had a real gift for teaching.”

Her love for the university never wavered, and she was proud to accept Professor Emeritus of Physics status in 1998. She stayed busy even in retirement, writing about issues that she cared about in various forums, including The Washington Post. Mielczarek was honored by the Washington Academy of Science in 2009 when she received the Scientific Work of Merit award.

Mason's Department of Physics and Astronomy plans to start a fellowship fund in her name as recognition of her many accomplishments, said former department chair, Maria Dworzecka.

A lover of the outdoors, Mielczarek traveled to the far reaches of the earth on bird expeditions and never lost her passion for bird watching, hiking and cross-country skiing, her daughter said.

Mielczarek received a bachelor’s degree in physics from Queens College in New York and a doctor of physics degree from Catholic University in 1963.

She is survived by two brothers, John Vorburger, and Theodore Vorburger, and two children, Mary Mielczarek and John Mielczarek.

In addition to her research, Mielczarek taught physics courses, many to non-physics majors. Photo provided.