Women In Stem

Refinery29: Celebrities In STEM

Lilli Hornig

Lilli was a Czech-American scientist most famous for her work on the Manhattan Project which led to the discovery of the Atomic Bomb.

Lilli was born in Ústí nad Labem and was raised in Berlin, Germany.  She later moved to the United States to escape Nazi rule as she was of Jewish heritage. In 1942 she received her BA  in Chemistry from Bryn Mawr, a women's liberal arts college. In 1950 she received her Ph.D. in organic chemistry from Harvard University.

Eventually, she and her husband moved to Los Alamos and was given a staff scientist position where she worked with plutonium. Lilli eventually transferred labs and focused on high explosive lenses due to the societal views that plutonium chemistry was too dangerous for women.

Once the Manhattan Project was over, Lilli became a chemistry professor at Brown University and became the chairwoman of the chemistry department at Trinity College. Furthermore, she was a founding member, elected by President Johnson, that found the Korea Institute for Science and Technology.

Although she was a successful female scientist, she was an also an active feminist. Lilli was the founding director of HERS a sector of the Committee for the Concerns of Women in New England Colleges and Universities. Furthermore, she was active on the equal opportunity committees for the National Science Foundation, the National Cancer Institute, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sadly, in 2017 she died at the age of 96.

She was quoted as saying: 
"Our world is still a man’s world and our leaders are men—politicians, professional men, organization men and even men in gray flannel suits. On the evidence, they have not done so very well at solving our problems, but it’s traditionally been their box of cookies and they don’t really want to share it."

Gertrude B. Elion

Gertrude B. Elion is most famous for being an American biochemist and the winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Her research included the discovery of multiple drugs, some of them being the first AIDS drug AZT and the first immunosuppressive drug Azathioprine.

Elion was born on January 23, 1918, in New York City. In 1937 she graduated from Hunter College with a degree in chemistry and then in 1941 she graduated from New York University with her master's degree. Wanting to continue her education she applied for 15 fellowships and was rejected due to gender bias. 

After her fellowship rejections, she took a job as a food quality supervisor and worked in a food lab in New York. This eventually led her to work with George H. Hitchings at the Burroughs-Wellcome Pharmaceutical Company. Elion's work focused on anti-cancer drug development with purines. In 1950, she eventually discovered the drugs tioguanine and 6-MP.

She eventually was accepted into a Ph.D. program at the New York University Tandon School of Engineering but was forced to leave after given that ultimatum to rather work at her job or go to school full-time. Sadly, Elion left without a Ph.D.

In 1989 she was awarded an honorary Ph.D. from New York University Tandon School of Engineering and in 1998 she was awarded an honorary SD degree from Harvard University.
She later died at the age of 81 in 1999.

Throughout her career, she has worked at some of the most prestigious research institutions such as the National Cancer Institute, American Association for Cancer Research, and the World Health Organization. She has also held a professorship at Duke University where she taught pharmacology and experimental medicine.

Due to her research and passion she was not only awarded the Nobel Prize but also the following:
  • Elected member of the National Academy of Science (1990)
  • Member of the Institute of Medicine (1991)
  • Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1991)
  • National Medal of Science (1991)
  • Elected to the Engineering and Science Hall of Fame (1992)
  • Elected Foreign Member of the Royal Society (1995)
  • Lemelson-MIT Lifetime Achievement Award (1997)
In 1989 she was quoted as saying:
"Maybe I was young and 'cute' (after all, I was only 20 then), but I've learned over the years that when you put white lab coats on chemists, they all look alike."


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