Rosalyn Yalow (1978) - Radioimmunoassay: Tool for Biomedical Investigation and Clinical Medicine

Rosalyn Yalow (1978)

Radioimmunoassay: Tool for Biomedical Investigation and Clinical Medicine

Rosalyn Yalow (1978)

Radioimmunoassay: Tool for Biomedical Investigation and Clinical Medicine

Comment

Each year the Nobel Prize-awarding institutions have the possibility of dividing the money for their Nobel Prize(s) into two parts. These parts can then be given at the same time for different discoveries or inventions. This was the case when Rosalyn Yalow, as second woman ever, received her Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Her Nobel lecture given in Stockholm on December 8, 1977, is entitled “Radioimmunoassay: A probe for the fine structure of biological systems”. When she came to the Lindau meeting half a year later, she chose to speak on a very similar subject and apparently also re-used most of the 16 slides. Looking them up may help the interested listener to follow the details of her quite technical lecture. In the main part, she describes the invention of the RIA method and an impressive number of discoveries that have been made with this method, both in pure biomedicine and in more practical clinical medicine. But in the beginning she takes up a more general global problem, that of the increasing population of the world. This seems to be typical of her, since at the Nobel banquet in Stockholm she gave a very unusual and engaging appeal to the students, in particular the female students. Her point then was that the female half of the population can not be left out when our global problems need to be solved. From her own life, she knew more than enough about the many difficulties facing women entering scientific careers. When, as Rosalyn Sussman, she tried to enrol as a PhD student in nuclear physics, she initially had great difficulties. It was not until WWII started and most male physics students had disappeared into military activities that she finally was accepted. Since what she learned about nuclear physics and in particular about radioactivity is the starting point for her Nobel Prize work, one might paraphrase a quotation from her, to say “Without the war she would never have received the Nobel Prize”!

Anders Bárány

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