Rosalyn Yalow – Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine

Rosalyn Yalow in 1977 at the time of winning the Nobel Prize

Rosalyn Yalow in 1977 at the time of winning the Nobel Prize

Rosalyn Yalow, born July 19, 1921, was a medical physicist and one of the recipients of the 1977 Nobel Prize for Physiology and Medicine. She was born and raised in New York City. Neither of her parents had high school educations, but they were determined that their children would go to college.

Inspired by good teachers, Eva Curie’s biography of her mother Marie and a lecture by Enrico Fermi, Rosalyn completed a degree in physics in 1941 at Hunter College. She went on to graduate work at the University of Illinois where she was the only woman on a faculty of 400. She worked hard and endured what she called subtle discrimination, such as when an A- in a laboratory prompted the Chairman of the Physics Department to say “That A- confirms that women do not do well at laboratory work”.

After completing her PhD in 1945, she moved with her husband Aaron Yalow to NYC and began teaching at Hunter College. In addition, she took a part-time position with the Veteran’s Administration in 1947 where she did her work in radioisotopes. She joined the VA full-time in 1950 where she met Dr. Solomon A. Berson who would be her working partner for 22 years.

The Prize was for her role in the development of the radioimmunoassay technique (RIA) which is used to trace substances in fluids inside and outside of the body. It is used to screen donated blood for hepatitis, identify hormone-related health problems and test for some viruses and cancers in the body.

Together Rosalyn and Aaron had two children, Benjamin and Elanna, and kept a kosher home. She died on May 30, 2011 at age 89.

Find out what else happened on July 19 in Women’s History.

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