The Nation’s Largest African American Video Oral History Collection Mobile search icon Mobile close search icon

Search Results

Advanced Biography Search
Mobile navigation icon Close mobile navigation icon


Krishna Foster

Chemist and chemistry professor Krishna L. Foster was born on January 7, 1970 in Culver City, California to parents Warren Foster and Frances Smith Foster. Her father, a sales representative for International Business Machines (IBM), and her mother, a professor of English and women’s studies, encouraged Foster and her brother to excel in school. Foster graduated from Helix High School in La Mesa, California in 1988, and she received a NASA Fellowship through the Women in Science and Engineering Program. After earning her B.S. degree in chemistry from Spelman College in 1992, and graduating magna cum laude, Foster decided that she wanted to study environmental chemistry. She continued her education at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where she earned her Ph.D. degree in physical chemistry in 1998. Her final dissertation was entitled, “Laboratory studies on the Interaction of Hydrogen Halides with Ice Films.”

Foster became a postdoctoral researcher at the University of California, Irvine in 1998. In this position, she used mass-spectrometry to examine to what extent sea-salt particles impact the oxidizing capacity of the lower-atmosphere. In 2000, she accepted a position as an assistant professor at California State University, Los Angeles. She received a promotion in 2006 to become an associate professor with tenure. Her work at California State University, Los Angeles, has focused on the effects of sunlight on pollutants at the air-water interface. Her lab has also worked to develop techniques in studying reduced phosphorous oxyanions in natural waters. This study might prove useful in determining how phosphorous, an essential element in all organisms, might have been initially incorporated into living cells in ancient earth.

Foster has served as a mentor to twenty-six high school, undergraduate, and graduate students in providing and guiding research opportunities. Alumni of her lab group have found success in both academia and industry. In 2007, she was honored with the Distinguished Women Award at California State University, Los Angeles.

Krishna L. Foster was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on April 28, 2011.

Accession Number




Interview Date


Last Name


Marital Status



Helix High School

Spelman College

University of Colorado Boulder

Maryland Avenue Elementary School

Search Occupation Category
First Name


Birth City, State, Country

Culver City



Favorite Season



National Science Foundation



Favorite Vacation Destination

Summer in Aspen Colorado

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State


Interview Description
Birth Date


Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Los Angeles



Favorite Food


Short Description

Chemistry professor and chemist Krishna Foster (1970 - ) is known for her work in studying the effects of sunlight on pollutants at the air-water interface. She is currently an associate professor at the California State University, Los Angeles.


University of California, Irvine

California State University, Los Angeles

Main Sponsor
Main Sponsor URL
Favorite Color


Timing Pairs

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Krishna Foster's interview</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster shares her favorites</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster talks about her mother's ancestors</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster talks about her maternal grandmother</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster discusses the career path of her mother, Frances Smith Foster</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster shares her father's family background</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster talks about her father's education</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster discusses how her parents met</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Krishna Foster talks about her siblings</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Krishna Foster discusses her father's career at IBM</a>

<a href="">Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Krishna Foster recalls her childhood neighborhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster recalls the sights, sounds and smells of her childhood</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster describes the United Church of Christ of La Mesa, California</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster remembers her first inclinations toward science</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster remembers trips to the beach with her Montessori School</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster shares her elementary school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster recalls racial bias in the educational system</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster recalls the child murders in Atlanta</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster talks about her elementary school in San Diego</a>

<a href="">Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Krishna Foster talks about the meaning of her name</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster shares her junior high and high school experiences</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster talks about running track in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster describes her favorite subjects in high school</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster shares her high school aspirations</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster discusses her identification as an African American woman</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster describes the campus atmosphere of Spelman College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster recalls her chemistry classes at Morehouse College</a>

<a href="">Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster remembers events that happened during her college years</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster talks about her college advisor, Etta Falconer</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster describes her transition to the University of Colorado at Boulder</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster describes her graduate advisors, "Maggie" Tolbert and Steven George</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster talks about stratospheric ozone depletion</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster describes an analytical chemistry apparatus she developed</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster shares some of her experiences at University of Colorado at Boulder</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster recalls her postdoctoral mentor, Barbara Finlayon-Pitts</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster describes her studies in the Arctic, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Krishna Foster describes her studies in the Arctic, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster explains her research in ozone chemistry</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster recalls enjoying her research in the Arctic</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster discusses the practical applications of her research in the Arctic</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster talks about her decision to join the faculty of California State University, Los Angeles, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster talks about her decision to join the faculty of California State University, Los Angeles, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster talks about the history of research at California State University</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster talks about her mentors at California State University, Los Angeles</a>

<a href="">Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster discusses her research in reduced phosphorous, part 1</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster discusses her research in reduced phosphorous, part 2</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Krishna Foster</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Krishna Foster talks about her hopes for her research</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Krishna Foster discusses NOBCChE</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Krishna Foster talks about her academic responsibilities</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Krishna Foster reflects on her accomplishments</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Krishna Foster offers advice to young people interested in science</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Krishna Foster shares her goals for her professional career</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Krishna Foster shares her concerns for the African American community</a>

<a href="">Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Krishna Foster talks about her husband and children</a>

<a href="">Tape: 7 Story: 1 - Krishna Foster talks about how she wants to be remembered</a>







Krishna Foster remembers her first inclinations toward science
Krishna Foster recalls enjoying her research in the Arctic
Okay, all right. Now when did you first start thinking about or can you remember a time when you first started thinking about becoming a scientist or did you at that age?$$I can look back and see traits where, you know, this fits me and my characteristics but I didn't commit myself to science at an early age. I can't say that at all. I enjoyed, like my mother [Frances Smith Foster] I enjoyed baking. I think I left that out and remember at like ten I was making lemon meringue pies with perky meringue and everything right. I would work on making that just right. So I had tendencies towards wet lab chemistry [a laboratory working with matter] and chemistry and curiosity. You ask for phrases earlier. One of my childhood phrases is why? Why? I always wanted to know why and so much so where I was in a kitchen at the Montessori school where they involved children in doing different types of activities. And the teacher very much wanted the children in the kitchen but when I would ask too many questions, she kicked me out and I was traumatized because I was too into it. I was too into the why and how and can I help you and, you know, I was a busy little child that way. And I went home crying to my mom, "I got kicked out of the kitchen." But this was quite scientific in that I believe it's all about observation, the power of observation and interpretation is what science is to me. I teach my students, as I've matured as a teacher I add more students that--add more assignments that reflect my values as a scientist. It's not that there is a basic skill set that you learn. Everyone has to learn the rules. This--these are tools that we use to solve problems but the ultimate is really solving problems and understanding that every one of us has a spark of genius. Everyone has the potential for genius. It's about being ready, being prepared and being creative, putting yourself in it. And these are things that I expressed as a child as far as creativity and drive and also very good at following the rules. You know I would always get a check plus for good behavior. I was very good at listening and following the rules. And no I didn't know I would end up as a scientist, but I can see that this is the profession for me. My first formal commitment to science didn't come until it was time to select a college. So that's when I picked engineering, mathematics, science.$$Okay. Well I don't want to get you there yet.$$Yeah.$$But so, now okay well, did you--were you the type of kid that watched the nature programs on television and when Walt Disney would have this nature segment or you know programs on public television and that sort of thing?$$I remember the Jacques Cousteau [Jacques-Yves Cousteau]. You know who didn't watch Jacques Cousteau at that age. And '[The] Electric Company' [PBS, 1971-1977] and '1-2-3 Contact' [sic, '3-2-1 Contact,' PBS, 1980-1988]. That's the name of it. That was--that show just sucked me right in. I was about ten years old at the time and I would watch it religiously. It was a science show and that was very exciting to me, again another early indicator that I enjoyed that show.$$Okay. Yeah that's, I remember that show now. I mean I didn't, I don't think I ever watched it but I remember just seeing it listed you know. I didn't know what kind of show it was but it's a science one.$Okay. So you're up there for a total of how long?$$I stayed for seven weeks. I stayed for seven--I think originally it was six and then we decided to extend it. So I committed to six and they kept me for seven. I would have stayed for twelve, fourteen because I was just into it.$$Okay. So your early dread of going was kind of overcome by the excitement of what you were doing?$$It was overcome by talking to Susan Solomon who actually proposed the mechanism for polar stratospheric ozone completion [winner of the 1999 National Medal of Science]. I had ran into her during my Boulder days. She actually critiqued my first poster. I ran into her at a conference. I said Susan, what have I done? How am I going to stay alive?, cause she's petite also. And so she's like, here's what you do. She wrote down some names about where to get the right boots, told me about the right parka, the right gloves and I was set. So I was comforted about the snow by talking to somebody who lived in more extreme conditions time and time again. She did this several times going to the Antarctic where I was only trying to go to the arctic. So to talk to a survivor made me feel better about going up there and I was more than prepared as far as clothing.$$Was there ever a time you were actually--had a little trepidation while you were there about--?$$I am fearless in a way and I'm cautious, I plan. But in other ways I'm absolutely fearless. And so there were very dangerous situations where--what were we doing? When we first landed there was a storm that came in. There was a storm so bad that they said if you go outside you will have permanent frostbite forever. You know this is it. If you have your skin exposed this could happen to you. So on that day you know I covered up real good and I walked to the gym. I left--I went outside. I mean I don't know. I don't know why I do what I do. Brilliantly stupid, I don't know. But then another day we were running an experiment and you have to make a decision every evening, are you going to stay in the lab or are you going to go back to base? We have better facilities, back up generators, all of this. We were running an experiment and we didn't want to leave so we decided to camp out at the base. A storm came in. I mean I have photographs of the weather just changing within twenty minutes from perfectly sunny to a vicious storm. And we're sitting there. No one could get us. I mean we couldn't get back to the base ourselves. If the power went out we would have been in a bad way. A couple of hours without power and you're just dead, you know. But we stayed up there and did the experiment and I didn't even think twice about it.