Lenbrook celebrates Women’s History Month: Dr. Judy Franz

From 50s Fashion Icon to the Georgia Court of Appeals, Lenbrook Women Make History
Many very accomplished women live at Lenbrook. During Women’s History Month, we will share some of their stories and advice.

Physicist Judy Franz Advises Women to Stick Their Necks Out and Do What They Love

Dr. Judy Franz is a widely known condensed matter physicist, an award-winning physics educator, and served as Executive Officer of the American Physics Society. She grew up in Lansdowne, Pennsylvania, outside of Philadelphia. Both of her parents were chemists, and they encouraged her love of math and supported her physics career. Judy knows the value of that encouragement and throughout her career has supported other women in the physics field.

She attended Cornell University, and in 1958 took the first undergraduate computer course ever offered at the school. After graduation, she married Frank Franz, and they went to graduate school at the University of Illinois. Judy received a doctorate in Physics there and was the only female student in a class of 300.

After graduating, the couple spent two years doing research in Zurich, Switzerland. At the end of that time, they moved to Indiana University in Bloomington, Indiana, and both spent 18 years on the faculty there. Frank moved up in the administration to become the major Dean and then became Provost at West Virginia University.

The couple spent six years in West Virginia, and Judy was a visiting faculty member at Cornell during part of that time. When Frank became President of the University of Alabama in Huntsville in 1991, they moved there. During that time, Judy served 15 years as the executive officer of the professional society of physicists. The society was based in College Park, Maryland, so the couple had a commuting marriage during that time.

During her final six years at the society, Judy was also secretary general and traveled to meetings in Europe, Asia, and South America. The accomplishment she values most was bringing 300 women physicists together from 65 countries around the world for a scientific meeting and celebration at UNESCO headquarters in Paris.

“It was very exciting to have women physicists from all over come together,” she said. “Some had never been outside of their countries.”

It’s still unusual to have women in physics, and one of Judy’s goals has been to improve physics education. She is a past president of the American Association of Physics Teachers and today advises young people to find something they’re good at and love and to build the skills they need.

“Stick your neck out and do what’s not expected of you,” she advised. “To do that, you need support. You also need resilience and endurance. Some of that comes from within, some comes from your support system. At college, find professors who are supportive of you. Don’t be afraid to advance.”

Judy’s son and his family live in Atlanta, and she and Frank moved to Lenbrook in 2017 to be near them. She enjoys gardening and helped initiate the 16 new resident vegetable gardens. She is also the unofficial leader of the Lenbrook flower gardeners.