Monthly archives November 2015

Thelma Estrin: Medical informatics pioneer


Electrical and biomedical engineer Thelma Estrin (née Austern, 1924–2014) did pioneering work in computing, beginning with her work in the early 1950s at the Electroencephalography Department of the Neurological Institute of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital.

She and her husband Gerald built the first electronic computer in the Near East: the WEIZAC, or Weizmann Automatic Computer, in Israel.

When Gerald, also an electrical engineer, joined the faculty at UCLA in 1953, Thelma was barred from doing the same. Universities often won’t hire both a husband and wife; the usual upshot is that the husband is the one who gets the job. Thelma got a job at a nearby junior college.

She eventually did become a valued member of the UCLA staff and later faculty, as director of the data processing lab and a professor of computer science.

Thelma served as president of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society and was the first female vice-president of the IEEE. She was named an IEEE fellow in 1977 “for contributions to the design and application of computer systems for neurophysiological and brain research.”