Durham County

She went into science. She changed the world. Meet Sylvia Earle.

Duke alumna Sylvia Earle is featured on this cover of Time magazine as one of 46 women who are changing the world.
Duke alumna Sylvia Earle is featured on this cover of Time magazine as one of 46 women who are changing the world.

Making any list that Time magazine produces is a big deal.

On Saturday, Duke alumna Sylvia Earle was included in Time’s list of “Women Who Are Changing The World.”

Earle, who was the first woman to become chief scientist of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, has been featured in Time before. She was named the magazine’s 1998 “Hero for the Planet.”

Her inclusion in Time’s current list is for a special book project that profiles Earle and 45 other women, including Oprah Winfrey, Madeleine Albright and former U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who is a Durham native.

Earle, who earned both a master’s degree (1956) and Ph.D. (1966) from Duke, recounted how she came along at a time when female scientists were first being accepted.

“When I was in high school, science was not a particularly attractive field for many young women,” Earle told Time. “It seemed like a guy thing, but I loved it. I wanted to be an ecologist, somebody who looked at how the whole system works. When I began college, I was often the only woman in a class.

“I came along at a time when women were just beginning to be accepted as competent scientists and engineers.”

One of her first oceanographic expeditions occurred in 1964 when she went on a six-week study in the Indian Ocean. She was the only female on board with 70 men during the expedition. She also explored the ocean with Jacques Cousteau.

“In an atmosphere where other people may expect you to be treated differently, you try not to be treated differently,” Earle said. “I took being a scientist very seriously. I still do.”

Joe Johnson: 919-419-6678, @JEJ_HSNews

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