Rosalyn Sussman Yalow
Graduating magna cum laude from Hunter College in New York at the age of 19, Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was the school’s first physics major but she still had trouble continuing her studies and it is said to be because she was a Jewish woman from New York.
With many young men being drafted at the onset of World War II, universities were faced with a tough choice–close their doors or provide scholarships to women. The University of Illinois offered Yalow a scholarship and she ended up being the only woman in the physics department where her research focused on nuclear physics and she became skilled at making and using apparatus for the measurement of radioactive substances.
Returning to New York after earning her doctorate in 1945, she was the only woman engineer at the Federal Telecommunications Laboratory. The next year when the group she worked with left she returned to Hunter College to teach physics but full time teaching didn’t occupy all her time so she began volunteering with a leading medical physicist with the hopes of gaining experience in the medical applications of isotopes.
Paired with another researcher by the Chief of Radiotherapy Services at Columbia’s Hospital she helped equip and develop its Radioisotope Service and worked with other physicians in a number of clinical fields.
Shifting to working for the Veteran’s Administration full time, Yalow began working with Dr. Solomon Berson in what would be a 22 year partnership that lasted until his death. The pair started looking into the application of radioisotopes in blood volume determination, clinical diagnosis of thyroid diseases, and the kinetics of iodine metabolism extending these techniques to include studies on the distribution of globin and of serum proteins. By studying the reaction of insulin with antibodies they were able to develop a tool with the potential for measuring circulating insulin and ushered in the era of radioimmunoassay that is now used to measure hundreds of substances of biological interests around the world and in 1977, Dr. Yalow’s work on the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones was recognized with the Nobel Prize in Medicine.
Written by Angela Goad