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Sossina Haile

Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering Sossina Haile was born on July 28, 1966 in Addis Adeba, Ethiopia. After her family left Africa during an uprising in the 1970s, Haile grew up in Minnesota. She attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology where she received her B.S. degree in 1986. She went on to receive her M.S. degree from the University of California, Berkeley and her Ph.D. degree from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1992. While in school, Haile received the AT&T Cooperative Research Fellowship and the Fulbright Fellowship to continue her studies. The Fulbright, along with a Humboldt Fellowship the following year, allowed her to study at the Max Palnck Institute für Festkörperforschung in Germany.

Upon receiving her Ph.D. degree, Haile assumed an assistant professorship at the University of Washington, Seattle where she stayed until 1996 when she joined the faculty at the California Institute of Technology. Her research group investigates ionic conduction in solid materials with applications to batteries and fuel cells. Haile is known for her work with the latter - in the 1990s she fabricated the first solid-acid fuel cell in her lab, regarded as a gateway to more powerful, commercial cells. In comparison to other fuel cells, Haile’s is unique for its creation of energy at hot enough to be efficient, but not so hot as to be expensive. In 2003, two of her graduate students created Superprotonic, a company focused on fuel cells, with Haile as science adviser. Most recently, Haile has received recognition for developing new ways of using solar energy to make fuels like hydrogen and methane.

Haile is the recipient of the NSF National Young Investigator Award (1994-1999) and the 2001 J.B. Wagner Award from the High Temperature Materials Division of the Electrochemical Society. Newsweek Magazine named her one of “12 people to watch in 2008,” and in 2010, Haile won both the Chemical Pioneer Award of the American Institute of Chemists and the Chow Foundation Humanitarian Award.

Haile lives with her two children and spouse in southern California.

Haile was interviewed by The HistoryMakers on November 29, 2012.

Accession Number

A2012.197

Sex

Female

Interview Date

11/29/2012

Last Name

Haile

Maker Category
Middle Name

M

Occupation
Organizations
Schools

St. John's Preparatory School

Massachusetts Institute of Technology

University of California, Berkeley

Search Occupation Category
First Name

Sossina

Birth City, State, Country

Addis Adeba

HM ID

HAI02

Favorite Season

Spring

Favorite Vacation Destination

Hawaii

Favorite Quote

99 percent perspiration, 1 percent inspiration.

Bio Photo
Speakers Bureau Region State

Illinois

Interview Description
Birth Date

7/28/1966

Birth Place Term
Speakers Bureau Region City

Chicago

Country

Ethiopia

Short Description

Chemical engineer Sossina Haile (1966 - ) Engineering professor Sossina Haile (1966 – ) is the Carl F. Braun Professor of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) and has developed new ways of using solar energy to make fuels.

Employment

Max Planck Institut für Festkörperforschung (Max Planck Institute for Solid State Research)

University of Washington, Seattle

California Institute of Technology

Timing Pairs
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DAStories

Tape: 1 Story: 1 - Slating of Sossina Haile's interview

Tape: 1 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile lists her favorites

Tape: 1 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile describes her mother's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile talks about her mother's growing up in Ethiopia

Tape: 1 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile talks about her mother's religious background

Tape: 1 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile describes her father's family background

Tape: 1 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile talks about Italian and Ethiopian relations

Tape: 1 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile talks about her father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile talks about Haile Selassie, the former Emperor of Ethiopia

Tape: 1 Story: 10 - Sossina Haile talks about her father's education

Tape: 1 Story: 11 - Sossina Haile talks about how her parents met

Tape: 2 Story: 1 - Sossina Haile talks about her parent's courtship and marriage

Tape: 2 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile describes her parents' personalities and who she takes after

Tape: 2 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile talks about her siblings

Tape: 2 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile describes her earliest childhood memory and growing up in Ethiopia

Tape: 2 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile describes the sights, sounds and smells of her growing up

Tape: 2 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile talks about her family's involvement in the church

Tape: 2 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile talks about the Ethiopian system of education

Tape: 2 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile talks about her family's fleeing from Ethiopia

Tape: 2 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile talks about her experience at Sanford English School

Tape: 3 Story: 1 - Sossina Haile describes the cultural differences of Ethiopia

Tape: 3 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile discusses energy in Ethiopia and her immigration to the United States

Tape: 3 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile describes her new life in the United States

Tape: 3 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile describes her social environment in Minnesota

Tape: 3 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile describes her early education

Tape: 3 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile contrasts Ethiopian schools with American schools

Tape: 3 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile describes her early interest in science

Tape: 3 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile describes her impressions of Minnesota's weather

Tape: 3 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile talks about her social life in high school

Tape: 4 Story: 1 - Sossina Haile talks about her decision to attend Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Tape: 4 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile discusses the field of material science and how she chose to pursue it

Tape: 4 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile talks about her professor, Gus Witt

Tape: 4 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile describes her political activism at MIT

Tape: 4 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile talks about her perceptions of African Americans in college

Tape: 4 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile talks about MIT students and faculty

Tape: 4 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile talks about her graduate work at MIT and Berkeley

Tape: 4 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile discusses her time at Bell Laboratories

Tape: 4 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile talks about her Fulbright Fellowship

Tape: 4 Story: 10 - Sossina Haile talks about her time at the Max Planck Institute in Germany

Tape: 5 Story: 1 - Sossina Haile describes her doctoral research

Tape: 5 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile talks about her second year in Germany and her return to the United States

Tape: 5 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile talks about her move to the California Institute of Technology

Tape: 5 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile talks about her groundbreaking discovery of solid acid fuel cells

Tape: 5 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile talks about the political aspect of alternative energy

Tape: 5 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile shares her perspective on the future of alternative energy

Tape: 5 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile discusses the applications of fuel cells

Tape: 5 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile describes water splitting

Tape: 5 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile talks about honors she has received

Tape: 5 Story: 10 - Sossina Haile talks about drinking tailpipe emissions

Tape: 5 Story: 11 - Sossina Haile talks about the Superprotonic Company

Tape: 6 Story: 1 - Sossina Haile talks about Safcell

Tape: 6 Story: 2 - Sossina Haile talks about her awards

Tape: 6 Story: 3 - Sossina Haile discusses her work on fuel cells

Tape: 6 Story: 4 - Sossina Haile talks about the electric car

Tape: 6 Story: 5 - Sossina Haile talks about her return to Ethiopia

Tape: 6 Story: 6 - Sossina Haile shares her hopes and concerns for the African American community

Tape: 6 Story: 7 - Sossina Haile reflects on her career

Tape: 6 Story: 8 - Sossina Haile talks about her legacy

Tape: 6 Story: 9 - Sossina Haile describes her family

Tape: 6 Story: 10 - Sossina Haile tells how she would like to be remembered

DASession

1$1

DATape

2$3

DAStory

6$8

DATitle
Sossina Haile talks about her family's involvement in the church
Sossina Haile describes her impressions of Minnesota's weather
Transcript
Okay. Was church a big part of growing up?$$Well, it was a large part for my parents [Misrak and Getatchew Haile], but we, as kids, did not go very much, and part because the whole prop(sp) was extremely long, extremely long. It was way too long to bring kids. I think that's the conclusion of my parents--$$You said extremely long, how long?$$Three hours, easily, for each service. The services were long. So we'd go for, you know, baptisms and weddings and things like that, but not on a weekly basis. And also, the language that was used was Ge'ez, which is, you know, equivalent to having Catholic Church in Latin, where nobody actually understands it, so you're just sitting around for three hours, so my parents spared us that. And I don't know if that was true of all families or just us, yeah.$$Okay. Would you consider your parents very, I mean, devoted church people?$$My father, in particular.$$Okay.$$Yeah, and he was, you know, he was headed that path, actually, to be a priest, but I'm not sure what changed his mind.$$So he, more than likely understood. He understood what they were talking about, right?$$Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, that, as a linguist, and that's partly why through his church education that he knew the language the Ge'ez and, you know, all those Semitic languages.$$How do you spell that language?$$It's G-E-apostrophe E-Z.$$Okay.$$In English, I believe, it's referred to as Ethiopic.$The weather had to be really be--$$You know what's funny about that, is that we arrived in the summer, and the summer was brutal. I mean, you know, Highlands, if you felt it, it's like being in San Francisco. And so to come to a place which has as its state bird the mosquito, has incredible humidity, it was--that was actually much harder. People don't think that, when they think, you came from Ethiopia to Minnesota, the cold might--no, the hot is really a problem too--is really a problem. But, you know, you managed. You managed. My sister likes to recount the story that on the cold side about how the first time she had earned enough money to actually buy a warm coat, and then go through a winter where she wasn't--just had the chills all the time.