Nobel Women

Rosalyn Yalow
Associated Press

Rosalyn Yalow, 1977 Winner of Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

October 14, 2009
by Anita Gutierrez-Folch
The second woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, Rosalyn Yalow was awarded the distinction in 1977 for her discovery of the radioimmunoassay (RIA) technique.

Rosalyn Sussman Yalow was born in 1921 in the Bronx, N.Y. Yalow’s interest in math and science emerged at an early age, and solidified after her studies at Hunter College. Prejudice against women in academia was prevalent at the time, however, and prevented her from pursuing a graduate degree in science, according to Modern Drug Discovery.

Instead, after her graduation from Hunter in 1940, Yalow worked as a secretary for a biochemist at Columbia University. In 1941, she was unexpectedly offered a teaching assistant position in physics at the University of Illinois; she graduated in 1945 with a doctorate in nuclear physics.

After completing her degree, Yalow returned to Hunter College as a teacher. In 1950, she went to work at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in the Bronx, where she participated in a project exploring the application of radioactive materials in medical treatments. Together with her colleague, Dr. Solomon Berson, Yalow worked in the field of radioisotopes, concentrating on the study of hormones such as insulin, a topic that interested Yalow because her husband, Aaron, was diabetic.

In 1959, after extensive research, Yalow and Berson discovered a new technique to measure minimal amounts of biological substances in the body using radioactive-labeled material. This method, known as radioimmunoassay or RIA, combines nuclear physics and medicine, and has greatly facilitated medical diagnoses and treatments. 

For a detailed autobiography, visit Rosalyn Yalow’s page on the Nobel Foundation Web site

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