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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureate

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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureate essay

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Many women during the 20th century were hired as research associates at low pay. If unmarried, scientists often found employment at women’s colleges, which did not offer the same level of support for research. Women in science who did find jobs lacked the benefits and stability that their male counterparts had. As of 2014, there had been 575 science Nobel Prizes awarded and only 16 of these were awarded to women. When looked at even closer, women have been awarded 1.0% of the physics awards, 2.4% of the chemistry awards, and 5.3% of the physiology/medicine awards.

Women normally didn’t get recognized for their work, only their male counterparts got the awards and recognition. Rosalyn Yalow was one of the few women who got a Nobel Prize and recognized for her research. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was an intelligent medical physicist. She was a very determined woman when it came to her education and career.

She is a great role model for women who want to be someone someday, specifically a scientist. During that time women were a minority and had to overcome many obstacles. She overcame every obstacle and didn’t let being a woman stop her from going to college to study something she loved. No matter what struggle life threw at her, Yalow came out stronger and was more determined than before. Yalow was born on July 19, 1921 in New York to a poor Jewish family.

Her mother came to the US from Germany at the age of four. Her father was born and raised in New York City. Yalow’s parents were not able to get a good chance at an education (Craer, 2013). Yalow’s mother completed the sixth grade and her father only made it to the fourth grade, so they didn’t even have to advantage of a high school education. Since her parents didn’t have a good chance at education they made sure Rosalyn and her brother, Alexander were able to get a good education and encouraged both to attend college (Hargittai,2015). With the support of her parents, Yalow first graduated from Walton High School and then attended Hunter College in 1937 where she graduated with honors in the science fields of chemistry and physics.

(Hargittai,2015). According to Hargittai, Yalow had difficulty being accepted into a graduate program due to the fact of her being a woman. In one instance, a skeptical university basically said that Yalow was a woman and Jewish and that they weren’t going to accept her unless she was guaranteed a job afterwards. (p 184). So, she had to move onto another option. She then became a secretary at Columbia University because that job enabled her to attend classes for free.

In 1941 during World War II, many young men who were in the military left the universities. Then the universities needed girls to fill up their spaces, which provided more opportunities for women to get an education and teach (Craer, 2013). So, she went on to study physics at the graduate school of the University of Illinois. (Hargittai, 184)

There, she graduated with her Ph.D. as the first woman in the physics field. While attending the university, she met her future husband Aaron Yalow from New York, with whom she had two children named, Benjamin and Elena (Hargittai, 184). Although Aaron went away to continue his education he still supported his wife’s career and encouraged her to pursue her research in physics (Craer, 2013).

He seemed to not mind not working together in the science field as a couple and encouraged her to pursue her dream even if it meant that she would be more successful in her career then him. He never felt threatened like some husbands during that time. When she had her first child Benjamin, she was back in the lab a week later with the baby.

She continued her work while she took care of him in the lab, meanwhile getting very little sleep. She tried not to neglect neither work nor her role as a mother. While they were in school, she came home every day to give them lunch. She even came home in time to prepare dinner every evening, but then would sometimes go back to the lab to finish up her research.

According to the New York Post she said “It’s true that women are different from men. If you want to be a good wife, you must work a little harder” (Gellene, 2011). Yalow wouldn’t have been as successful if she didn’t have such great support growing up. She really looked up to Marie Curie as her role model. Marie Curie was the first female to receive the Noble Prize.

Then as a widowed mother she wins a second Nobel Prize for herself. Meanwhile she worked while having children. She even brought up her daughter Irène to become a scientist. Yalow strived to be like Curie, winning a Noble prize in science as a woman, all while still being a mother to her children. Having Marie Curie as a great role model, Rosalyn was able to achieve the same. Although Yalow looked up to Marie Curie, she still had many people in her life that also helped encourage her to achieve her dreams.

As a young child, Yalow was motivated by her parents to learn and succeed in life. Her parents were her first supporters and without them she probably wouldn’t have been as successful in in life and career. She also had some special teachers who helped her succeed as well. For instance, her high school teacher helped to make chemistry fun and increased her curiosity in science. (Brody 1996). Then in college, when she was interested in math, it was her professor who excited her about physics (Bauman 2011).

Therefore, through all these encouragement Yalow looked past the doubts as a woman studying physics and went to pursue a career. In 1947 she got a part time job at the Bronx VA hospital where she did radioisotope. This is where she found her partner Solomon Berson, who was a new resident at the VA hospital. The worked together for twenty-two years which led to discoveries that changed endocrinology.

Berson and Yalow used radioactive tracing to diagnose thyroid disease. They injected radioactive iodine into the bloodstream and determined its clearance rate, this method is still the best one for this purpose according to Hargittai (2015). Their most famous discovery was the investigation of the malfunction of insulin in type II diabetes. In the past the insulin that they injected was from pigs or cattle, and the human immune system would produce antibodies to fight it off (Hargittai, 2015) At the time insulin was believed to be too small to produce antibodies but that believe was wrong. Berson and Yalow discovered that it produced large gamma globulin proteins (Hargittai, 2015).

Through their partnership, in 1959 Yalow and Dr. Berson co-invented RIA, or radioimmunoassay. Basically, a process to investigate the human body for small substances by using radioactive materials (Hargittai, 2015). This technique is significant, because it helped people detect diseases at an early stage. According to Hargittai (2015), RIA could be used to measure the precise amount of insulin in the body.

It is also used to measure vitamins, steroids, prostaglandins, tumor antigens, enzymes, and viruses in the blood. With a few drops of blood, babies could be tested for underactive thyroid glands by using RIA (Hargittai, 2015). Another amazing use that RIA could be used for was determining drug concentrations in the blood (Hargittai, 2015). RIA revolutionized endocrinology and clinical medicine.

In 1977, Dr. Yalow won the Nobel Prize in physiology and medicine and was the second women to ever accept such an award (Hargittai, 2015). In addition to pursuing her life goals and studying physics, Yalow also contributed a lot in helping others and being a great role model to the younger generation. She inspired Mildred Dresselhous, who was a professor at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, to pursue the career she wanted (Bauman et. al. 2011).

After graduating from the university of Illinois, Yalow went back to Hunter college to teach physics to the students there. She was a great role model to her female students, showing them that she was successful and that they could too by putting their mind to it. As her life progressed, Dr. Rosalyn Sussman Yalow became an inspiration for young women who wanted to be recognized and achieve something in their life (Brody 1996).

With all her awards, one of her main focuses was to help women regain their positions in the working world (Bauman et. al. 2011). As she accepted the Nobel Prize, Rosalyn stated that the world can not incur the loss of talent and knowledge because of societies view on gender (Bauman et. al. 2011).

She would give speeches on how humankind is lacking in knowledge and how women’s cooperation can help aid the world’s knowledge as well as a man can (Bauman et. al 2011). She wanted it all. She was both a mother and a successful scientist and succeeded in both.

Therefore, encouraged her students about the opportunities for women in science. She said,” you can have it all” (Hargittai,2015). She also talked about the importance of daycare centers at universities so that young women should not be away from their research too long. She truly believed women could work outside of the house and be a mother and she was living proof of it. Throughout history women that were involved in science were just assistance or book keepers for the scientist.

Women were known as not being as smart and able to be involved in complex science. My perception of women in science changed after reading about Yalow, she proved that no matter what obstacles you may face as a woman, if you put your mind to it you will achieve it. She also proved that women could be a mother, take care of the house and work as a scientist. She made a ground-breaking discovery with some help of her partner, but it was with her ideas. Although others thought that once her partner died she wouldn’t be as successful, she proved them wrong.

She proved that women were just as successful and broke the typical stereotype of scientist. Not only did she prove to be a great scientist she proved to be a great role model to both her kids and the younger generation. Yalow has worked hard in her studies of nuclear physics. Through her effort and determination, she has become a role model for future students, she has become a person people look up to when they think they may not be able to do something.

Yalow, even with financial problems could not only go to college but could also receive a doctorates degree in nuclear physics. She has not only won a Nobel Prize through her research, but she has also contributed to our world through her experiments and discoveries. Yalow passed away at the age of 89 on May 30, 2011, but her achievements and contributions will not be forgotten.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureate essay

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Rosalyn Sussman Yalow – Nobel Prize in Medicine Laureate. (2019, May 01). Retrieved from