Sunday, April 3, 2011

Katherine Esau

Katherine Esau, the youngest of her parent's four children, was born on April 3, 1898 in Yekaterinoslav in the Russian Empire, which is now Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine. Her family were descendants of German Mennonites who had emigrated to Ukraine. Her father was a mechanical engineer and the city engineer of Yekaterinoslav. In 1918 her family fled to Germany to escape the Bolshevik Revolution. Esau learned to read and write at home, before beginning school. When she was 11 she entered the gymnasium, which she graduated from in 1916, and before leaving Russia, Esau had completed one year at Moscow's Golitsin Women's College of Agriculture. In Berlin she continued her education at the Agricultural College of Berlin. From Berlin, Esau went to a estate in northern Germany, where she worked at a wheat seed breading station. In 1922 Esau's family emigrated to the United States, settling in Reedly, California, where there was a large Mennonite community. Esau took a job in Oxnard, California working for the Sloan Seed Company. Sloan Seed went bankrupt a year later and Esau took a job with the Spreckles Sugar Company in Spreckles, California, working on a cure for curly top, a viral disease of sugar beets. While working in Spreckles, Essau was visited by Wilfed Robbins, the Chairman of the Botoany school at University of California at Davis. Impressed with her work, he offered her a graduate assistantship. Esau took the offer and graduated with a Ph.D. in Botany from the University of California at Berkeley (at that time U.C. Davis did not have a Ph.D. in Botany). After graduation Esau remained at Davis, first as an instructor and then as a professor of botany. She remained at Davis until 1963, going to U.C. Santa Barbara, where she used the electron microscope for research into plant anatomy. Esau's research involved using the electron microscope to study the development and structure of the phloem of plants. In plants there are two major types of vascular tissues, the phloem and the xylem. Plants use the phloem to transport glucose and other nutrients and use the xylem to transport water. Esau's publications included the textbook Plant Anatomy (1953), which had a great impact on the study of botany. Awards won by Esau include the National Medal of Science, awarded her in 1989, election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and honorary degrees from Mills College and the University of California. Esau died on June 4 1997. References: Everet, Ray; "Katherine Esau, April 3 1898-June 4, 1997" at Grinstein, Louise S., Biermann, Carol A., and Rose, Rose K.; Women in the Biological Sciences: a Bibliographic Sourcebook; Greenwood Publishing Group; 1997 "Remembering Katherine Esau"; U.C. Davis Biological Sciences Newsletter Fall 1997