Scientist Spotlight: Rosalyn Yallow

Anyone will tell you hard work and persistence pays off. Nothing was more true for Rosalyn Yalow. Born in 1921, Rosalyn began reading in preschool. Her parents knew she’d go far, but thought it’d be best for her to be a schoolmistress. Rosalyn, however, had bigger dreams. She persisted in her plan to become a physicist and eventually won the Nobel Prize in 1977.

Rosalyn’s love of chemistry began in high school but at Hunter College her interests shifted to physics. In her junior year, she hung from the rafters so she could hear physicist Enrico Fermi speak in a packed lecture room. Rosalyn was excited to one day become a physicist and possibly win a Nobel Prize.

Her path to scientific fame wasn’t clear-cut, however. Rosalyn’s family did not think any graduate school would accept and/or offer financial aid to a woman pursuing a degree in physics. Nonetheless, Rosalyn and her advisors persisted and the University of Illinois offered Rosalyn a teaching assistantship in 1941. She was the only woman on a faculty of 400 professors and teaching assistants. At the University of Illinois, Rosalyn earned her master’s degree and PhD.

After completing graduate school in 1945, Rosalyn began working at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in the Bronx to determine how to use radioisotopes in medicine. With little funding, Rosalyn relied on innovation and converted an old janitor’s closet to one of the nation’s first radioisotope labs. Rosalyn worked closely with her lab partner, Solomon Berson, and discovered how radioactive isotopes could measure blood, study metabolism, and diagnose diseases.


Rosalyn in her lab in the Bronx.

However, these discoveries were just the beginning of the duo’s collaboration. They soon applied their methods to hormones, creating the radioimmunoassay technique (RIA) by tagging hormones with a radioactive isotope and measuring the amount of antibodies created. The RIA technique is still used today to check for many different diseases and medical issues. Doctors use RIA to screen unborn babies for fatal diseases, detect thyroid issues, and assure blood banks are safe and clean.

Solomon and Rosalyn used their RIA method to research diabetes, an endocrine gland disorder that affected Yalow’s husband. The two scientists discovered how insulin


Rosalyn works with isotopes for her research.

worked in the body and determined the difference between type 1 and type 2 diabetes. The precision of RIA and the discoveries of Solomon and Rosalyn revolutionized endocrinology and has allowed doctors to better treat hormonal diseases.

Solomon died of a heart attacked in 1972, and Rosalyn was devastated. She lost her best friends and her lab partner. Rosalyn realized she needed to prove herself now that she was a lone woman in the scientific sphere. She worked hard and published over 60 research articles in only 4 years. Rosalyn never gave up on her dream and kept a chilled bottle of champagne in her office every year in case she won the Nobel Prize. In 1977, that dream came true when she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for her work in endocrinology.

We all face obstacles, and Rosalyn is a prime example of how we should not give up on chasing our dreams. In her own words, “we must believe in ourselves or no one else will believe in us; we must match our aspirations with the competence, courage, and determination to succeed.”


To learn more about Rosalyn:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky


Scientist Spotlight: Rita Levi-Montalcini

Researching for this blog post, I was first blown away by the number of reputable websites that came up after I Googled Rita Levi-Montalicini, but I was even more impressed by everything Rita accomplished.

Born April 22, 1909 in Italy to a wealthy Jewish family, Rita was raised in a Victorian way of life. Rita’s father, a notable mathematician and electrical engineer, loved his family dearly but also believed women’s roles were as mother and wives, not as professional workers. Rita, felt she could not live the expected feminine life and be enrolled in medical school in Turin. In 1936, at the age of 27, Rita graduated summa cum laude from the University of Turn medical school with a degree in Medicine and Surgery. She began a what was supposed to be a three-year specialization in neurology and psychiatry but this was cut short because of World War II. Due to her Jewish heritage, in 1938, Rita was barred from practicing medicine. However, this did not stop Rita in her quest for scientific greatness.

In the Spring of 1940, Rita set up a makeshift lab in her bedroom. Inspired by the work of Viktor Hamburger, she used sewing needles to dissect the nervous systems of embryonic chicks from the eggs she got from farmers. Even in these seemingly poor conditions from research, Rita could see the development of the motor neurons.

Viktor Hamburg ended up inviting Rita to work in his lab for a semester at Washington University in St. Louis in the United States in 1946. This “semester” turned in to 30 years of teaching a research, positions as Associate Professor and Full Professors, and dual citizenship with the United States and Italy.

In St. Louis, Rita and Stanley Cohen discovered the nerve growth factor (NGF) which is important in the growth and development of nerve cells and fibers in the peripheral nervous system. Although this discovery was not initially recognized and appreciated, the scientific community eventually realized all the possible cures that could come from growth factors.

Rita began missing her home country and in 1962, established the Institute of Cell Biology in Rome. From then on, she divided her time between Rome and St. Louis.

In 1986, Rita and Stanley won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine for their work with NGF and in 1987 Rita was awarded the National Medal of Science. Rita’s work did not stop here, however. In 1992 Rita started an education foundation and in 2001 was named an Italian Senator for Life for her work toward equality and contributions to science. A year later, in 2002, Rita established the European Brain institute.

Pope Paul VI appointed Rita to the Pontifical Academy of Sciences and instead of kissing the Holy Father’s hand as per protocol, Rita simply shook it.

As a woman who never gives up, Rita performed research until her death at the age of…. wait for it….103! Never letting anything stop her, once when her luggage was lost she lectured in a pressed nightgown and she even brought lab mice onto a plane to continue her research.

I don’t even know how to end this post but WOW. Rita was truly an inspiration and someone who stood tall in the face of adversity. She knew what she wanted and who she was and did not let anyone make her think otherwise. I am glad I got to meet her through writing this blog post. I will end with one of her quotes and something we all need to remember, “Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.”


For more about Rita’s amazing and long life:

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

I love math and I cannot lie

I don’t think this blog post will give my love of math justice. Reader (channeling my inner Jane Eyre), I would need to sit you down and you would need to see for yourself. Then, you could see my face light up and my heart beat quicken. You could see me just stare in awe at the beautiful numbers (and letters in some case).  You could hear the tone of my voice change from normal to extraordinarily excited. Because we have the World Wide Web between us, you’ll have to settle for this mediocre blog post.

There’s something about math that makes it feel right. It’s different than other subjects. Everything else is up for interpretation. Even in science, you can view a certain experiment differently than someone else. But math…there’s always a right answer. It may not always come as a 1 or 2 or square or circle, but an answer can be found somehow. And if there isn’t an answer like . You can say the limit doesn’t exist. You can prove that there is no answer.

Not all subjects have that kind of certainty.

Nothing against English class (I’m an avid reader), but can I really prove that the author used an “ad hominem” argument in line five to make an appeal to his or her ethos? I can assume, but I cannot truly prove an author’s purpose or the effect it has on the reader. Maybe my neighbor feels the passage portrays nature as sad, while I think it portrays nature as indifferent.  Do I even care about how the author portrays nature at all?

I don’t feel that way towards math, though. Unlike other students, I rarely question when I will use the math in real life. I know I would. I see friends and family members solving differential equations or using trig for their jobs. Even if I didn’t see the practical applications, I wouldn’t care. I just love math so much.

There’s a beauty behind the numbers. There’s just so many cool things you can do with them. Using the numbers 1-9 you can make a number that simplifies to  to a couple decimal places. Very impressive if you ask me. You can see the video here.

Right now I am taking Calculus, and I can wholeheartedly say it is my favorite class. Every day, I discover something more amazing about the math. It also certainly does help that my teacher is so passionate about the subject. Her enthusiasm is contagious. Even if you hate math, you can’t help but get excited in her class.

I just did some homework about Riemann sums and there was a feeling of peace and satisfaction after I completed it. I didn’t feel like it was busywork, but rather enriching my life with wonderful mathematical knowledge.

So this ends my blog post on math. I apologize if it seems more of a babble and less of a blog post, but maybe that’s a way you can understand how much I love the subject. I get so excited about it I can’t formulate a coherent post.


Scientist Spotlight: Maria Agnesi

How many people have a mathematical curve named after them? Let me rephrase that, how many women have a mathematical curve named after them? I don’t know but I do know that Maria Gaetana Agnesi is one of these people. And guess what? Today is her birthday!

Born in Italy on May 16, 1718, she was the oldest of 21 children (her father had three wives). Because her father was a wealthy man, he was able to provide his children with the best of tutors.

Maria was lucky that she lived in the birthplace of the Renaissance because in Italy women were admired for their academic ability and were never scorned for their intellect. This attitude allowed Maria to prosper and eventually become a great mathematician.

By the age of nine Maria fluently spoke French (which she mastered at age five!), Greek, Hebrew, Latin, and other modern languages. She was known as a child prodigy and referred to as the “oracle of the seven tongues.” Also at the age of nine, she wrote and published (with the help of her tutor) a Latin discourse on the higher education of women as it was not practiced at the time.

Maria was a quiet and reserved child, but participated in the seminars and meetings of intellectuals that her father hosted. There she discussed philosophical and mathematical ideas. At the age of twenty, however, after her mother’s death, Maria took over the household duties and maintained a private life.  At the same time, she published a set of essays on philosophy and natural science called “Propositiones Philosophicae.” Much of it was based on the meetings she attended with her father.

Her most important work, a two volume book entitled “Analytical Institutions”, focused on differential and integral calculus. It was meant to be a textbook for her brothers but ended up making big waves in the world of academia. The ten years it took Maria to write it paid off because it helped bring “calculus to general use” (John H. Lienhard) and “was one of the first and most complete works on finite and infinitesimal calculus” (Agnes Scott College).


Drawing the “Witch of Agnesi” curve

Most people don’t hear of Maria Agnesi, rather they hear of the “Witch of Agenis”, her famous curve. If you look at the curve, there is nothing sinister about it. It is a versed sine curve called a versiera for the Latin vetere which means “to turn.” However, versiera was also an abbreviation for the Italian word avversiera which means “wife of the devil.” When versiera was translated into English it got confused with “witch.” If you want to learn more about this curve check out They can explain it better than I ever could wish.

May notable institutions recognized Maria Agnesi for her work. Maria was appointed as an honorary reader at the University of Bologna by Pope Benedict XIV. She was later sent a diploma and her named was added to the faculty list but there is controversy regarding if she accepted the position. Maria also became a member of the Bologna Academy of Science and the French Academy expressed their admiration but could not admit her because she was a woman.

Once Maria’s father died, she retired from mathematics to pursue charity work. Growing up she wanted to enter the covenant, but her father would not allow it. So, she spent his life making contributions to mathematics and then the rest of her life after his death taking care of the ill and dying. Some may argue that she only really worked with mathematics to please her father and that her real passion lied in charity.  In 1763, the University of Turn asked her for her opinion on recent articles on the calculus of variations she explained she was no longer interested in such topics. Maria was appointed the director of the Pio Instituto Trivulzo, a home for the ill, and served the needy until her death.

For more about Maria:

Career Corner: Actuaries

The first time I heard about actuaries I thought they were people who did some stuff with birds. Maybe I was confused with an aviary, a place where they keep birds? Nonetheless, I was wrong.

Actuaries deal with numbers, not birds. They may deal with birds, if they are calculating financial risk for an aviary.

And that, is primarily what actuaries do. They calculate, using mathematical models, financial risks for companies and help the companies minimize the cost of risks. They mathematically calculate the chance of future events occurring and then plan ways to prevent unwanted events. If these undesirables end up occurring, actuaries figure out to reduce their impact. I guess you could think of actuaries as financial superheroes, they predict the problems, try to stop the problems, and then if they can’t stop the problem, do everything in their power to alleviate the consequences of the problem. Actuaries do a lot of business with insurance agencies, though their expertise is also used in many other areas.

Actuaries need to be strong in business, statistics, and most importantly mathematics. I personally love math. Calculus is currently my favorite class of the ones I am taking. The fact that math is not up for debate, there is an answer or there is not, draws me to it. There is always a way to either find a solution or admit there is no solution.

Alas, this is not a math appreciation post but a post about actuaries. Time to get back to business (no pun intended). My calculus teacher recommended to my mom that I be an actuary, as did my dentist and a few others.

It takes a lot to become an actuary, however, but the rewards are fruitful. Actuaries are in high demand and always needed. They never have to worry about losing their job because companies always need someone to determine risk. Actuary science is also a very lucrative job. My dentist said his son’s friend entered with a starting salary of $80,000 with no internship experience under his belt.

All these benefits come at an initial price, though, because there are a lot of tests needed to become certified. Many people give up because the math gets too complicated or the stress becomes too high. It takes a special kind of person, but maybe that person is YOU.

Actuary science is often a forgotten career path, but one not to be understated. If you love math, it could be an option for you; I know I am looking at it as an option for me. Who knows, maybe one day we will be crunching numbers together (at an aviary, of course).


To learn more about actuaries:

Scientist Spotlight: Mileva Einstein-Maric

Anyone could tell you who Albert Einstein is. School children know his equation  without even knowing what the letters mean. Einstein has become synonymous with genius. I mean, there was even a TV show “Little Einsteins”! But contrary to what you may be thinking this post isn’t about Einstein, at least not Albert. This post is highlighting the less popular but equally important Einstein: Mileva Einstein-Maric. She was his first wife and had no blood relations to him, unlike his second wife who is justifiably pointed out to be his double-first cousin.

Mileva was born in 1875 in Austria-Hungary (present-day Serbia). Coming from a wealthy family, Mileva’s father got permission for Mileva to enter an all-boys school where she received the highest grades possible in physics and mathematics. After falling ill, Mileva decided to move to Switzerland where she attended the “Girls High School” in Zurich. Once she passed the Matura-Exam, Mileva began studying medicine at the University of Zurich. However, she soon transferred to the Zurich Polytechnic where she met Albert Einstein. Mileva was the only women out of a group of six students for a physics-teaching course.

Initially, Mileva did well in her course but ended up failing the final teaching diploma exam because of the math part. Mileva worked harder and planned to retake the test but found out she was pregnant with Einstein’s baby. Three months into her pregnancy, she failed the exam again without any improvement to her score. Mileva ended up abandoning her studies and little is known about this daughter, Liserl. It is though the child died or was given up for adoption.

Albert and Mileva married in Swtizerland at a simple ceremony only witnessed by the original members of the Olympia Academy, Maurice Solovine and Conrad Habicht. The pair went on to have two sons but ended up divorcing after about 15 years. As part of their settlement, Mileva received all Albert’s Nobel Prize money and invested it in real estate.

However, throughout their marriage Mileva remained an asset to Albert. She discussed his papers with him and possibly contributed to many of his theories. There is a lot of controversy surrounding how much Mileva actually worked with Albert to develop his famous works. Was she truly a part of the process? Or was she just a wife supporting her husband? Scholars have speculated this for years and continue to examine their correspondence and relationship. Whether she directly contributed or not, Mileva and Albert both shared a deep love of physics and math. They must have bounced around ideas with each other and she probably influenced some of his ideas.  She was a very smart woman who might just have gotten too caught up in love to complete her degree, but I think she deserves a lot of credit. Perhaps she had the ability to do more but was caught in her husband’s shadow.

More about Einstein’s first wife:

Why do I love STEM?

I think this blog has been around long enough to address a pretty fundamental issue…why I love STEM. To provide some insight, here is my answer to an application question about what interests me about STEM:

STEM is the way of the future. I was interested in the STEM fields way before “STEM” was a buzzword. Ever since I could remember, my mother would buy me various science kits from the local education store because I have always had in interest in learning how things work and performing different experiments. As I have gotten older, I have learned that there is much more to STEM than making geodes or building circuits. I am interested in STEM not only because it is our key to understanding human life but it is also our way to improving human life. Countless new discoveries are being made in STEM fields every day. With STEM, the soldier that lost his leg fighting for the freedom of his country is given a bionic leg (printed on a 3-D printer) to finish the New York City marathon. If predictions come true, that same soldier can live comfortably in a lunar village. With STEM, the possibilities are endless and that is one of the things that entices me. I want to be part of this innovation. I know that the dedication and passion I have makes me a perfect fit to discover a cure or create a new invention. STEM gives us the power to change the world and shows me that there is nothing stopping me from being the next Stephen Hawking or Marie Curie.

Career Corner: Biomedical Engineering

Biomedical engineering: What is it? How do I get involved? Why is it so popular? If these questions have been on your mind lately about the field referred to as BME, you are not alone. I have the same questions and so do a lot of other people.  So, why not have a blog post to discuss it?images-2

Biomedical engineering combines engineering with biological sciences to create devices, software, and equipment to use in medicine. For example, pacemakers and joint replacements are products of biomedical engineering, as well as different systems used to deliver drugs. Biomedical engineers are responsible for researching, testing, and implementing new tools and devices to combat health issues.

What makes BME different than other engineering disciplines is that it puts a big emphasis on life sciences. It is a true combination of science and mathematics, therefore, you need to be strong in those fields. For success in the BME field, you need to truly love both science and math and be adept in both.


Many schools have started to offer BME programs for undergraduates. Unlike other majors, most colleges have BME students apply for the BME program at the same time as applying for the school itself, because the program is so rigorous and students need all four years (or even more) to get everything done. Also, because BME has become so popular, it is difficult to transfer into a program.


BME is an engineering field dedicated to improving human health. Biomedical engineers work every day testing and implementing new procedures and medical equipment for use in labs, hospitals, doctors’ offices, and other healthcare places. The field is continuing to grow each day with new advancement. Who knows? Maybe you or I will be the next BME superstar.


Scientist Spotlight: Hyaptia

This blog post is going back in time, all the way to the 300s A.D. That’s right, I am going to be talking about Hypatia, “the Egyptian wise woman.” Born to Theon of Alexandria, a well-known scholar and one of the last members of the Library Alexandria, she learned a lot from her father. He instilled in her the importance of Greek culture and, being a mathematician and astronomer himself, placed a special emphasis on the mathematical and astronomical traditions.

Living in Alexandria allowed Hypatia to be surround herself with intellectuals. She worked with her father on theories about the solar system and she created a new version of the hydrometer.

Like her father who preserved Euclid’s Elements and commented on Ptolemy’s Almagest and Handy Tables, Hypatia gave commentaries on Apollonius of Perga’s Conics (geometry, Diophantus of Alexandria’s Arithmetic (number theory), and an astronomical table. Unfortunately, her commentaries have been lost, though people have tried to reconstruct pieces of them.

Hypatia was on of the first recorded women to teach and study math. People traveled from all around to hear her lectures. One aspects of her teaching was Neoplatonism, a “pagan” view. I don’t want to get into the aspects of the philosophy here, but due to the strong tensions between Christians, Jews, and Pagans at the time, Hypatia was killed by a group of extreme Christians.

During Hypatia’s life, she was the world’s leading mathematician and astronomer. She is pictured in Raphael’s famous work “The School of Athens” and was mentioned in an ancient encyclopedia called the Suda. She has become a symbol for both the Enlightenment and Feminism.


In this numbered picture of “The School of Athens”, Hypatia is #9

Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Have Changed the World, Rachel Ignotofsky

Scientist Spotlight: Cori Bargmann

Cori Bragmann, born on New Year’s Day in 1961, grew up in Georgia. Her parents were both translators at the Nuremburg Trials. Her father went to graduate school in the United States and became a professor at the University of Georgia after working at IBM. Cori grew up in “an academic household.” Her family was always reading, writing, or playing music.

In junior high and high school, Cori’s favorite class was always science. Instead of going to the pep rallies, she would spend her time in the chemistry lab.  When she was 17, Cori worked in a laboratory making fly food.  The lab director took a liking to her and introduced Cori to Sidney Kushner in the Genetics Department. Cori ended up working in Kushner’s laboratory and studied bacterial genetics and RNA metabolism. She also learned about molecular biology. The work she did in the laboratory gave her a base for her future research.

Cori attended the University of Georgia and received her undergraduate degree in biochemistry before heading to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) for graduate school. She entered MIT in 1981, just “as molecule genetics was exploding.” It was at MIT that Cori studied cancer cells in Bob Weinberg’s lab and was part of some big innovations in the field. Some of Cori’s research led to developments in the treatment of breast cancer.

In 1987 Cori received her Ph.D. from the Department of Biology and stayed at MIT to do some postdoctoral research. She started to do some work with the human nervous system. In 1991, Cori travelled cross-country to work in the Department of Anatomy at the University of California, San Francisco. She learned neuroscience here and studied worms. Though worms seem unhelpful to the study of human genetics, Cori is using them to analyze how the correlation between genes and behavior. Her work is leading her to discover the root causes of diseases like Alzheimer’s and autism.

Cori currently works is the Torsten N. Wiesel Professor in the Lulu and Anthony Wang Laboratory of Neural Circuits and Behavior at Rockefeller University. She has won the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences and Franklin Institute Awards. Cori also began the Brain Research Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies Initiative which is attempting to uncover what causes things like Alzheimer’s, autism, and depression.

To learn more about Cori: