For the Love of Science and the Quest-Happy Birthday, Rosalyn Yalow!

Happy Birthday, Rosalyn Yalow!

Rosalyn Yalow

There was an old-fashioned hutch in my third grade classroom and its shelves were filled with books.  Although my mother was always generous in buying me books (I posted a bit about that here), borrowing from my classroom library was a special treat and we were allowed to take home whatever we liked.  I loved that library – and the ability it afforded me to linger over stories outside of school.

Most of the books that I borrowed were biographies: Clara Barton, Thomas Alva Edison, Helen Keller and many more.  Each hardcover book featured a remarkable life of quests, challenges, set-backs, and accomplishments.  And, although I didn’t realize it at the time, each biography that I selected included some nuggets of “science” that I would later use.

I hope that there are hutches and bookcases that exist in today’s classroom, and, if there are, that a biography of Rosalyn Yalow will be found there for kids to borrow and savor.

Rosalyn Yalow won a Nobel Prize in “Physiology or Medicine” in 1977 for her (co) work on developing radioimmunoassay (RIA) used to detect hormone, vitamin, etc. levels that were too small for prior detection methods. Her work was instrumental in understanding Type 2 diabetes.

She and her fellow winners refused to patent the process, although they realized they could be come wealthy as a result, because she firmly believed that the RIA process should be widely used to benefit all.

Unlike Barton or Keller, Yalow had a robust family life as an adult.  She was married (to the same guy she married in 1943, until his death in 1992), had nice kids, was undeterred by discrimination against her because of her religion or her gender. (See Upon graduation from Hunter in physics, she could obtain a SECRETARIAL position with a biochemist at Columbia’s medical school – ON THE CONDITION THAT SHE MASTER STENOGRAPHY!  She stayed at that job as long as she had to (a few months.) Nevertheless, she persisted.

Rosalyn Yalow is one of my heroes.

I met her when I was a university student and she had already won the Nobel Prize. She was a warm and lovely presence, encouraging all in a love of science.

Happy Birthday, dear Rosalyn Yalow!