For every Marie Curie or Rosalind Franklin whose story has been told, hundreds of female scientists remain unknown to the public at large. In this series, we illuminate the lives and work of a diverse array of groundbreaking scientists who, because of time, place and gender, have gone largely unrecognized. Each season we focus on a different scientist, putting her narrative into context, explaining not just the science but also the social and historical conditions in which she lived and worked. We also bring these stories to the present, painting a full picture of how her work endures.
Christine Essenberg had an unusual life and an unusual career trajectory. She was married, then divorced, and earned her PhD in zoology from University of California, Berkeley at age 41. She went on to become one of the early researchers at what is now The Scripps Institution of Oceanography. We know the story of Christine Essenberg only because of a serendipitous find. Host Katie Hafner, searching in an archive jammed with the papers of male scientists, came across a slim folder, "Folder 29", in the back of a box at UC San Diego Special Collections & Archives. Just eight pages as a jumping-off point to flesh out a life, which raises the question: How many other unknown women scientists are out there, hidden away in boxes? This is the story of Christine Essenberg's own journey from researcher to teacher. It’s the first discovery of what we’re calling The Folder 29 Project, a research initiative to uncover the work of lost women of science, hidden in the archives of universities across the country.