Engineer of the Week No.82: Maria (Marja) Ludwika Ziff (Mrs Watkins) BSc, C.Eng., MIEE, FIET, FRSA (circa 1918 – September 2010)
In the month of her death, 9 years ago, we remember Maria Watkins, defence electronics engineer.
Maria Ludwika Ziff was born in 1918 in Vienna, of Ukrainian parents who were working in Lvov, Maria left in 1938 to study electrical engineering at the University of Edinburgh, the professor having believed her application was from a Polish man. Her family refused to join her and only her younger sister survived the concentration camps. She graduated in Electrical Engineering (Communications) in 1941, and then became a technical assistant at Johnson and Phillips Ltd, who made cabling and navigation items for aircraft, working on technical problems of their distribution systems. Her job included supervising the repair of overhead power cables shot down by drunken solders to repairing electrical exchanges damaged by bombings. She was also a research assistant for new airplane guidance systems. During the war she lived in Blackheath, London where she spent her eventings as an air raid warden. She also did research for the PLUTO Pipeline Under The Ocean project and for a new secret airplane guidance system, in between her air raid warden duties. In 1947 she was appointed a lecturer at South East London Technical College and in 1959 a Lecturer, later a Senior Lecturer at Northampton College of Advanced Technology, now the City University, and also a visiting professor Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Boston, USA. She did research in medical electronics and published about 13 papers on these subjects. Maria was a member of Council and Senate of City University for three years and a member of Council and the Qualification board of the Institue of Electrical Engineering from 1976 to 1979. She became a freeman of the City of London and member and senior steward of the Worshipful Company of Scientific Instrument Makers, and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts and a fellow of the IEE.
She joined the Women’s Engineering Society as soon as she arrived in the UK in 1939 and took an active part in the London Branch, the Society’s submission to the Finniston Enquiry, and its work with schoolgirls. She was WES President in 1980-81 and in 1984 donated the Watkins Medal to the society to be awarded to the best female engineering graduate of the year. She married Thomas (Tom) Brown Watkins, a fellow engineering student, when he returned from the war in 1946 and they lived in Sydenham and had two sons. Away from work her interests were English history, astronomy and skiing. She died in 2010.