Ruth Fitzmayer Schwarz

A Biographical Sketch

The Early Years, 1925 - 1942

Ruth Fitzmayer Schwarz was born in Louisville, Kentucky on July 12, 1925. She was the youngest of two children (both girls) of Lawrence Fitzmayer and Katherine Denzinger Fitzmayer. Her father was a violin and piano teacher, and a church organist. Being the oldest of five children, he had been forced to leave school at an early age to help support his widowed mother. Ruth's mother, the fourth of nine children whose father died shortly after the birth of the last child, became the first sibling in her family to graduate from high school. She worked for over 30 years at the Kentucky State Board of Health in accounting and finance.

Ruth's early childhood coincided with the Great Depression. With music teaching almost non-existent, the family struggled to live on the mother's meager salary. Watching her mother do the wash by hand, sewing and mending old clothes and performing other household duties while working a 44-hour week, left a life-long impression on Ruth.

As a youth, Ruth was characterized as well-liked by her peers, active in sports (particularly tennis), and possessed with an unusually sharp, analytical mind. It was a characterization that carried throughout her entire life. She attended parochial schools through grade six (her father was Catholic), and public junior and senior high schools (her mother was Unitarian). And on Sundays she attended both Catholic and Unitarian churches.

It was in high school that her talents came to the forefront. She graduated with first honors and was president of the student council. She was also active in intramural sports, played in the school orchestra, worked on the school paper, and was winner of a state-wide Latin competition. (Latin was taught extensively in those days.)

The Academic Years, 1943 - 1952 >>>

The Academic Years, 1943 - 1952

After graduating from high school in 1943, Ruth entered the University of Louisville and three years later received a B.A. degree in physics. An outstanding student, she was immediately hired as an instructor in the Dept. of Physics where she taught for two years. Her math and physics professors were so impressed with her analytical skills and problem-solving talents that they spearheaded an effort to get her financial aid and admittance to a top-rated graduate school. As a result of these efforts, she received a fellowship (full tuition plus a stipend) to study physics at Harvard University.

While at the University of Louisville, she began dating an engineering student named John B. Schwarz. It was love at first sight and a year later they agreed on marriage. But John had two years of engineering school to complete and Ruth was committed to Harvard. This made marriage a difficult option and they decided to hold off for another two years. There was no formal engagement because John wanted her to be able to date freely at Harvard and not be in a committed relationship.

In the fall of 1948, Ruth headed for Boston where there was more snow and more life threatening traffic than she had ever seen. She had never been more than 100 miles away from home, and coming from a close-knit family of relatives that lived only a short distance apart, aunts and uncles and cousins had been an everyday part of her life. Now suddenly she was in a whole new environment. Her dormitory mates found great amusement in her southern speech, and when she described the strange ducks she had seen on the waterfront, they laughed in disbelief while informing her that they were seagulls.

In contrast to the bulk of her classmates, who came from wealthy, prestigious families (her roommate's father was an admiral in the navy) and had degrees from name schools, Ruth was the product of a low income, blue collar background and a small local college of questionable credibility. Thus in the Harvard-Radcliffe setting, Ruth was an outsider, not up to the social norm of the group, and lacking the money to participate in their activities even if she had desired to do so. So while her classmates spent their free time at sorority houses, driving their own cars or traveling at will, Ruth spent hers walking the banks of the river front, more often than not alone. None of this seemed to bother her, she took it philosophically as a part of life, and laughed along with others at her own eccentricities. More important to her was the learning potential that lay ahead.

Another area where Ruth differed sharply from her classmates was in their study habits. Final grades in the Harvard graduate school were determined almost entirely by the grade on the final exam at the end of the term. (Often it was the only test given during the term.) To prepare for this make-or-break event, students spent hours in the library perusing scores of text books, technical journals, previously-given final exams and anything else that might contain material that could be on the exam.

Ruth did none of these. Instead, she spent this time in her dorm room carefully analyzing only the material and problems that had been covered in the course -- what were the basic fundamentals involved, what was the rationale and logic behind the solutions. After her very first final exam, her dormitory mates laughed when she said that she couldn't think of anything she did wrong on the exam. Their attitude was that nobody makes a perfect score on a Harvard exam that could cover almost anything, and where an entire question could be marked wrong for even the slightest mistake. But when the final grades were posted, there it was, a grade of 100 on the exam and a mind boggling A+ for the course. The poor girl from a small school in the backward south, who couldn't tell a seagull from a duck, had suddenly come on strong. And it was only the beginning, she went on to graduate with an almost perfect straight A average.

During their years apart, Ruth and John communicated by mail during the school year, and dated during the summer months while she was at home (teaching summer courses at the University) and he was on a co-op program. Finally, in June of 1950, they were married and went together to Cambridge. It worked out well, John had been accepted in a special two-year engineering science degree program at Harvard, and Ruth had two years of work remaining on her thesis.

In 1953, five years after entering Harvard, Ruth received her Ph. D. in theoretical physics. Her thesis on magnetic effects in free molecules (done under J.H. VanVleck who later received a Nobel prize in physics) was widely praised and initiated numerous communications with other scientists in the field.

<<< The Early Years, 1925 - 1942

The Career Years, 1953 - 1972 >>>

The Career Years, 1953 - 1972

After receiving her Harvard degree in 1952, Ruth was hired by Philco Corporation in Philadelphia. At that time, science was in the early stages of a technological revolution. Television was being perfected, computers were being born, and a new electronic device called the transistor had just been discovered. Philco, already a leader in television and home appliances, had decided to invest heavily in transistor development and was one of the leaders in the field. Ruth joined a cadre of other young scientists that had been previously hired to pursue this goal.

Her first assignment was to derive a formula for heat flow that was critical in the transistor manufacturing process. All previous efforts to arrive at a formula had failed, and her peers considered the problem insoluble. She solved the problem in two weeks. The work was presented at a technical symposium and later published in a scientific journal. It was the first of over a dozen such articles she would publish in her career.

As her knowledge of transistor theory grew, her analytical skills came to the forefront. She began developing logical explanations of phenomena that had others baffled, and predicting the results of experiments before they were observed. In the many debates with her fellow workers as they struggled to understand this new field, her reasoning proved invincible. As one physicist lamented, "It never fails, I go into her office convinced I am right on a certain point, and come out two hours later realizing that I was completely wrong. I have yet to win an argument with her." She became the company's lead theorist and was so respected by her peers that they thought twice about releasing their own findings without first discussing them with her. "Have you checked it out with Ruth?" became a common indicator of whether a new finding had merit. And upper management, unable to fully comprehend all the physics involved, relied heavily on her input.

Three years after joining Philco, Ruth had her first child, a boy named Scott. She returned to work after that but on a part time basis (two or three days a week). Two years later she gave birth to her only daughter, Linda, and eleven years after that she had her last child, a boy named Timothy. Throughout this period she worked for Philco as a part-time consultant, although counting the time spent at home it was in reality close to being a full time job.

Because of the newness of the semiconductor device field (of which the transistor was a part), new devices and development techniques were constantly being discovered. This led to a patent frenzy. Of the numerous patents that emerged from the Philco group, Ruth's name appeared as author on many of them, and as co-author on many more. This co-authorship was a tribute by her co-workers to the importance of her input to their inventions. She also had over a dozen technical papers published including some that were requested (and paid for) by the publishers of technical journals and scientific texts. Her rise to prominence also included an interview on the radio, and a feature article about her that appeared in newspapers nationwide. The newspaper article termed her a rare genius in the field of theoretical physics, and quoted her supervisor as describing her as "having a vast knowledge of physics with the mind to bring out the facts she needs the moment she needs them".

All of this did not go unrecognized by her employers and the scientific community. She was presented Philco's Presidential Special Award for "outstanding effort and achievement and for significant contributions to the progress and success of Philco Corporation". It was the highest recognition given to any employee. In addition, she received an Achievement Award "in recognition of significant contributions to the research and engineering progress of Philco Corporation". She was also presented an award by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (at that time the leading electronics society in America) in recognition of her outstanding contributions to the electronics field.

Ruth's relationship with her co-workers was different from that of all others in the group simply because she was a girl. Not only was she the only female physicist in the company, she was virtually the only female physicist at her level in the entire United States. But since her role in the company was that of a consultant and not as a line manager, men in the group did not consider her as a threat to their career, but rather as a means of enhancing it. Her congenial personality and "female persona" motivated many of her male cohorts to engage in discussions with her of a personal nature that they hesitated to discuss with their male colleagues. (She even received a marriage proposal from one of them ---even though he was already married.) This not only made her very popular with co-workers, but also served to unify the group by providing a means for diffusing internal problems and squabbles.

All was not well at the corporate level however. Philco management was very top heavy (one whole floor of the main Philco building was reputed to have nothing but vice-presidents) and that may have complicated decision making. In any event, for whatever reason, they began making some costly mistakes. The year the company placed its bets on the introduction of a very expensive high-performance television set, the economy faltered badly and low-cost sets were in the demand. The introduction of a low-cost set the following year found the economy rebounding and high-performance sets in demand. (In those days, new models were introduced yearly.) Then there was the refrigerator debacle. Philco had developed a refrigerator whose door could be opened from either the left side or the right side. In a televised highly publicized presentation, the door fell off! But even the successful transistor end of the business had its problems. Oddly enough, the problem arose because of the huge success of one of its products. This is the way it happened.

Philco had developed a unique and very clever way to make a transistor using jet streams. One stream etched away material from a substrate, other streams deposited the materials on the substrate that were needed to obtain transistor action. The switch from etch mode to deposit mode was achieved simply by reversing the electrical polarity of electrodes attached to the substrate. This resulted in a very clean junction between the two materials and an accurate way to control the depth of the deposited materials, both essential for high performance devices. The transistors produced were the fastest available, and were especially well suited for computer development which was creating the major demand for transistors at that time.

Philco was also investigation an approach whereby the materials needed to obtain transistor action were diffused into the substrate. The lead physicist investigating this method (Bob Noyce) tried to convince the company that in the long run it was superior to the etching process which required transistors to be made essentially one at a time. (The diffusion method had the potential of making many transistors at once in a batch mode.) Because the etching process was producing such sought-after transistors, however, Noyce was unable to convince the company that they were on the wrong long-range track. (The fact that the etch approach was invented by one of the company executives was a factor in this decision also.)

So Noyce left Philco, moved to the west coast, became a founder of several companies, made lots of money, and became internationally famous. Needless to say, the diffusion process became the industry standard. This was a scenario with a theme that frequently occurs not only in science but in many other aspects of life as well. It is possible to become so enamored with something that a rational reasoning process is circumvented. Only in hindsight does the obvious become obvious. It is interesting in this case to speculate on what course history might have taken had Noyce convinced Philco to develop the diffusion process to its full potential. Would the semiconductor industry, along with its computer chip capabilities, be centered in the Philadelphia area rather than in the San Francisco bay area? The economic, political and social implications are mind boggling. Ruth and Noyce lived in the same apartment complex and were friends in addition to being co-workers in the same department. Although they had different ambitions, each had much respect for the other's talents.

Fortunately, for the moment at least, Philco's fall came at a time when Ford Motor Company was in the midst of making so much money that it was eagerly seeking ways to spend it. Diversification, whether it made sense or not, was the vogue of the day, and soon Philco became one of Ford's far-flung subsidiaries.

Life under Ford was a downhill spiral typical of many such takeovers. Philco's scientific laboratory (of which Ruth was a member) received much (in fact most) of its financial backing from government contracts. The arrangement was a bit unethical (most of the funds earmarked for government research actually went into researching companion commercial products) but did produce some good results for all concerned. (Unethical means usually has a way of being justified when self-interest is involved.) But Ford wanted the Philco scientific laboratory to have the freedom to pursue research without any government interference, so all of the government backing that had sustained it was phased out. Then, after operating in the freedom mode for a while, Ford decided that the scientific laboratory was too expensive to operate and would have to be terminated. And thus ended this phase of Ruth's career.

Shortly after the Philco closure, Ruth was hired as a consultant at the General Electric Space Center at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania. The atmosphere there was quite different from that at Philco. Operation was based on the pooling system. If the project needed an electrical design, for example, an electrical engineer was borrowed from the pool to do the design and then immediately returned to the pool. Very efficient. Also very frustrating. In research and development work, where the abnormal is normal, designs are continually being modified as new problems are encountered. With the pool system, when a modification was required the engineer sent to do the modification was not always the same engineer who did the initial design (or previous modification). Furthermore, his primary goal was to make his design work; making the project succeed was secondary. Thus camaraderie and a team approach were replaced by a series of individual contributions from various specialized groups.

Ruth worked at the Space Center for about two years, but the work was not as satisfying as it had been at Philco, and the long commute drive was tiring. So she quit, thus ending her career as a physicists forever.

<<< The Academic Years, 1943 - 1952

The Post Career Years, 1973 - >>>

The Post Career Years, 1973 -

Closing the door on a career, traumatic though it may be, opens doors to many new activities. For Ruth, there was now more time for girl scouts, more time for bike riding and swimming, and more time for tennis (which eventually became a daily activity). And there was also more time for music.

As a violinist in the Old York Road Symphony, she played in the last chair of the second violin section for over 25 years, never seeking to move up even though there were many opportunities to do so. (Perhaps it was her way of putting seating-position competition into perspective.) She also served on the board of directors for many years and was president of the board from 1988 to 1996.

Being president of a community orchestra conjures up images of a prestige position in which major decisions are made (which conductor to hire, which hall to play in, what type of concerts to give, etc.) Thesr images are usually far from reality. For Ruth, the task meant filling out long and complicated forms to obtain grants (and attending meetings just to learn how to fill out the forms), analyzing the budget, arranging concert dates and practice hall facilities, maintaining the orchestra personnel list, making maps, writing directions and arranging transportation to special concert locations, obtaining music and special instruments, planning and hosting board meetings, writing profiles for the concert program, adjusting the concert hall acoustics and sound system, recording the concerts, checking that each orchestra section was adequately staffed, and on and on. And these were only the major tasks. A constant stream of requests and minor disputes were forever arising. When there was a shortage of volunteers, she felt obligated to fulfill other duties as well, such as setting up chairs and music stands at all the rehearsals and concerts. At the annual pops concert, she made the facility arrangements, set up and washed dozens of tables and chairs, cleaned the kitchen, prepared food and purchased supplies.

During this period of her life, Ruth extended her interest in music beyond merely playing it. She began to analyze the physics and mathematics behind pitch and harmony. Using the tempered scale invented by J.S. Bach, she was determined to create a more accurate scale that could be used with stringed instruments. Since stringed instruments (unlike the piano) have no limitations on where to place the pitch, there is often some question as to where to place certain notes relative to others. This can lead to endless arguments about intonation among string players, especially in string quartets. With the help of a stroboscope and her vast knowledge of sound waves, Ruth devised a scale that was more accurate than the tempered scale but still had each pitch set at a specific frequency. Thus an F-sharp was always the same F-sharp, no matter what the key. It was not, however, the same as a G-flat. So while her tuning could not be used for the piano, it could be used by string players or other instrumentalists who have flexibility in setting their pitch. To determine exactly where each pitch should be, she drew hundreds of violin fingerboards, pinpointing exactly where F-sharp was in relation to G-flat, E-sharp in relation to G-double flat, etc. With the advancing technology in music synthesizers (that have complete freedom in setting pitch), it is quite possible that her work would have received considerable attention had she been able to complete it.

Ruth had been a member of the Abington Presbyterian Church since 1960(?) and now in her post career years became increasingly involved in its activities. She served as a Deacon from 1986 to 1992, Moderator of the Deacons from 1990 to 1992, and two terms as an Elder beginning in 1992. For many years she prepared, served and cleaned up after communion, and at Christmas, Easter and other special events, she treated the choir to coffee and donuts between services. When a church orchestra was formed, she was a charter member and served as orchestra manager during its early stages. (She continued to play in the orchestra for the next 25 years). She began recording orchestra concerts and was soon also recording the sermons, weddings and funerals. When the church needed new sound and recording systems, she was the key link between the installation engineers and the front office, and for a long time was the only one in the church that understood how the systems operated.

Ruth's post retirement years were happy ones filled with activities that she really enjoyed. But the self-satisfaction that she got from performing tasks in great detail and to near-perfection began to have the effect of making her a slave to the work, especially as it increased in amount. Work for the Old York Symphony was becoming increasingly burdensome but she felt obligated to carry the load. And at church there was considerable internal strife. The institution that preached love and forgiveness was becoming filled with hate and vengeance. As a member of the session, she found herself in a position of responsibility over which she had little control. Life was becoming an equation for which even she could not find a solution.

In April of 1996, she suddenly became unusually tired and fatigued. Not having been to a doctor in over 15 years, medical help was not immediately available. One week after she did receive medical attention, she suffered a stroke. There was severe brain damage. With the blink of an eye, the mind that once solved problems that were considered insoluble could no longer even read or write or recognize family members. It was a humbling demonstration of how close we all are to the bottom of the I.Q. scale.

"What mother nature giveth, father time taketh away."

This biographical sketch was written by Ruth's husband for the benefit of their children, grandchildren and their generations to come, and for all those who shared in her life.

<<< The Career Years, 1953 - 1972