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Rosalyn S. Yalow

(1921 - 2011)


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Rosalyn S. Yalow became the second woman to ever win the Nobel Prize in medicine, 1977. Her achievement was the development of RIA, an application of nuclear physics in clinical medicine that makes it possible for scientists to use radiotropic tracers to measure the concentration of hundreds of pharmacologic and biologic substances in the blood and other fluids of the human body and in animals and plants. She invented this technique in 1959 to measure the amount of insulin in the blood of adult diabetics.

She was born on July 19, 1921, in New York City, of Jewish parents, Clara and Simon Sussman. She attended the New York City public school system and in Walton High School she was encouraged by her chemistry teacher to pursue a career in science. She graduated Hunter College and accepted a teaching fellowship in physics at the University of Illinois. In 1945, she became the second woman to receive a Ph.D. degree in physics from Illinois.

She met A. Aaron Yalow, a fellow physics student who was the son of a rabbi and they were married on June 6, 1943. They returned to New York where she accepted a lecturer's post in physics, which she held until 1950. During this period, they had two children, Benjamin and Elanna.

After World War II, the Veterans Administration was interested in doing research to explore the possible use of radioactive substances in the diagnosis of treatment and disease. The VA Hospital in the Bronx was chosen as one of the sites where research would be conducted. Dr. Yalow, who was a consultant in this facility, was hired to work on nuclear physics in 1947. In 1950, she was appointed physicist and assistant chief of the hospital's radioisotope service.

Dr Yalow was appointed to higher and more responsible positions at the VA Hospital during the years. In 1976, she became the first woman to win the Albert Lasker Prize for Basic Medical Research. During the years, Dr. Yalow was recognized for her achievements with numerous prestigious awards from organizations, societies, universities, etc.

Dr. Rosalyn Yalow was always aware of her role as a woman and as a Jew. After she received the Nobel Prize, the "Ladies Home Journal" wanted her to receive a special woman's award. She politely refused the offer, which she considered to be as a "ghetto" citation given her because she was a brilliant woman, not a brilliant scientist.

During her hectic life as a scientist and as the wife and mother of a family, she managed to host a five-part dramatic series on the life of Madame Curie, for the Public Broadcasting Service in 1976. She has put in long hours each week at the VA. Hospital and then come home to her kosher kitchen to prepare meals for her family. Dr. Yalow displayed energy and enthusiasm at all times for work and family.

Dr. Rosalyn Yalow was a beacon and guide for young women in achieving position and recognition in life. She demonstrated through her life that it is possible for a woman to be an outstanding professional as well as have a good family in their lifetime.

Dr. Yalow died on May 30, 2011, at age 89.


Sources: This is one of the 150 illustrated true stories of American heroism included in Jewish Heroes & Heroines of America : 150 True Stories of American Jewish Heroism, © 1996, written by Seymour "Sy" Brody of Delray Beach, Florida, illustrated by Art Seiden of Woodmere, New York, and published by Lifetime Books, Inc., Hollywood, FL.

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