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Dr. Nancy K. Welker

photo of Dr. Nancy K. Welker

Dr. Nancy K. Welker is a physicist and nationally recognized expert in superconducting electronics. She was a pioneer in technology development in Maryland and nationwide. During her 55-year distinguished career with the National Security Agency (NSA), she led groundbreaking research in superconducting materials and integrated circuit manufacturing, which made it possible to develop a new generation of faster and more powerful computers. Dr. Welker earned an A.B. in physics in 1963 from Mount Holyoke College, and her M.S. and Ph.D. in physics from American University. She came to NSA in 1963, and worked there until her retirement in 2018.

One of her many major accomplishments was the creation of NSA's Microelectronics Research Laboratory (MRL) in support of NSA's groundbreaking integrated circuit fabrication facility, the Special Processing Laboratory (SPL), which produced otherwise commercially unobtainable products for NSA and other government agencies. Dr. Welker went on to manage the SPL as it produced state-of-the-art Complementary Metal Oxide Semiconductor (CMOS) chips in a wide range of designs and configurations - all critically important to the Agency's mission.

Dr. Welker was the first woman appointed as Chief of the Research and Development (R&D) group, where she had previously held several key management positions. She enjoyed her work both early on as a hands-on researcher in experimental physics and later as a senior manager working to bring the promise of a range of computer switching techniques and major research efforts to fruition.

During her career, Dr. Welker significantly contributed to the development of NSA's technical workforce. She served on the governing board for the Senior Technical Development Program (STDP), the Agency's highest-level development program, and chaired that board for nearly 20 years. She considers this work, along with individual mentoring, to be the most lasting of her contributions since both will support technical excellence for decades to come and allowed her to encourage women in technical fields.

She has been an active participant in NSA’s Queens of Code project, which encourages a new generation of women to pursue STEM-related careers, and she works with the Center for Cryptologic History. Giving back to the community, Dr. Welker served on many NSA and external technical advisory boards, the NSA Advisory Board’s History, Literature, and Museum Panel, and Cryptologic Quarterly Editorial Advisory Board.

Recognition for her work includes the Federal Women’s Program Lifetime Achievement Award in engineering, the Women in Science and Engineering (WISE) Lifetime Achievement Award, the Meritorious Presidential Rank Award, and the Exceptional Civilian Service Award.

Throughout her 55-year career, Dr. Nancy K. Welker has been a technology pioneer, one of Maryland’s most distinguished women in science and technology, a role model for thousands of women, and an advocate for women in the workplace.

“For me, the honor of being admitted to the Maryland Women's Hall of Fame is enhanced by my hope that my career example will inspire more young women to become science and technology professionals. Excellence in these fields has become increasingly critical to the challenges of the modern world.”

Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2020.

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