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:

http://bnrc.berkeley.edu/Famous-Women-in-Physical-Sciences-and-Engineering/mileva-maric-einstein.html

http://www.biography.com/people/mileva-einstein-maric-282676#divorce

http://www.teslasociety.com/Mileva.htm

http://www.einstein-website.de/biographies/einsteinmileva_content.html

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.

800px-raffaello_scuola_di_atene_numbered-svg

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

http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/history/Biographies/Hypatia.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Hypatia

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:

http://www.pnas.org/content/102/9/3181.full

http://www.kavliprize.org/sites/default/files/Cornelia_Bargmann_Biography.pdf

Scientist Spotlight: Kira Larson

In June 2016 I attended the New Jersey Hugh O’Brien Youth Leadership Conference and one of the guest speakers was a bridge engineer by the name of Kira Larson. Kira’s talk captivated me and I saw a lot of her in myself, so I wrote her a thank you note at the end of the conference. Later, I connected with her on LinkedIn and we have been in contact ever since. She was even kind enough to let me visit her engineering firm, HNTB. I got to sit in on a meeting and get a glimpse of what a bridge engineer does. It was a very educational experience and made me seriously think of engineering as a future career path for myself.

I am currently taking a course called Principles of Engineering and one of our assignments was to interview an engineer. I chose to interview Kira and, being an editor on the school paper, I have to say she was an awesome interviewee! With her permission, I decided to publish the interview so all of you can read about her!

What is your specific degree and how does it relate to your current position? 

I have a Bachelor of Science in Civil and Environmental Engineering from Princeton (in 2008), and a Master of Science in Civil Engineering with an Emphasis on Structural Engineering from Columbia University (in 2009).  My position now is Structural Engineer at HNTB Corporation in Parsippany, NJ.  My degree is directly related to my work; structural engineering is really all based on physics and the forces in members, which was largely what my courses were about.  At both schools there was a big focus on designing structures to be efficient, economical and elegant, and I try to remember that every day at my job!

Pease explain your particular engineering field, your current job title, and your duties. 

My field of structural engineering is bridges; I design and detail new bridges and work to rehabilitate existing bridges.  My job title is Structural Engineer II, and I am responsible for performing calculations and choosing the materials and sizes of members needed to make a bridge stand up.  For a given project, I will work under what’s called a Project Manager, who manages the project as a whole, and I will supervise more junior engineers, who will check a lot of my work and perform smaller design tasks.  When we design a bridge, first we look at the geometry – e.g. how long does it need to be, is it straight or curved or skewed, how high does it need to be, and how much room do we have to build.  Then we design each member from the top down, starting with the beams and the deck, to the abutments that the beams sit on, to the foundations that hold the structure up below ground.  (If you remember my speech!) to make sure they will not fail when loaded by cars, trucks, impact from a vehicle accident, wind, earthquake, extreme temperatures, and more.  If you look under a typical NJ bridge, you’ll likely see a concrete deck sitting on steel beams, with smaller steel members called diaphragms spanning between the beams.  Every dimension of concrete and every piece of steel – from the width and depth and thickness of the beams, to the number of bolts connecting the diaphragms to the beams, to the amount of rebar inside the deck, is calculated by the engineer.  Once the design is complete, we put together a set of plans, which tells the contractor all of these sizes we’ve designed, and shows them how the bridge is supposed to be put together.  We also put together an estimate of all the materials used in the bridge, and how much it will cost, so that our client (some of our larger ones are the NJ Department of Transportation or the NJ Turnpike Association), can properly estimate how much the bridge will cost.  All these pieces come together in our submission, and then the project can be built!

 What is your average work schedule, what does your day look like?

The average schedule at my office is 8am to 5pm, with an hour for lunch, but the start and end times can vary.  Since my daughter was born a couple years ago, I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work part-time here, and spend more time with her at home.  I typically work 24 hours a week (Mon – Thurs from 9-3), but sometimes more as needed (like this week!).  My day is typically defined by a to-do list of items for the various projects I’m working on.  When a project first starts, it is largely about running calculations to get all the sizes we need.  Today, as I mentioned, we are working on finalizing our plan set for the bridges on I-80 and the designs are already complete.  So we are finishing drawing up different pieces of the bridges in CAD and making sure everything is shown in a way that a contractor will be able to use our plans and fully understand how to build every part of the structures.

 Starting with high school, please describe your educational background chronologically:

Ramsey High School, 2004

Princeton University, BS, 2008

Columbia University, MS, 2009

 Would you do anything differently if you had to start over?

I wouldn’t!  From a young age I loved math and loved problem-solving.  Today I get to do that every day at my job!  Because I was always passionate about those topics, I was able to enjoy the whole journey. 

 Finally, what advice would you give to me as someone interested in pursuing a career path similar to yours?  

The best advice I can give will sound familiar to you from HOBY – find your passion and start building that foundation!  So if you feel passionate about a career in engineering, start soaking up information, job shadow, and learn more about the field.  And also learn more about yourself, what do you love to do and in what setting do you do your best work (StrengthsFinder2.0 is a book I love for this!).   You don’t have to know all the answers today of what you want to do, but if you make decisions day by day that honor your passions, you will end up in the right place.  At first my major at Princeton was Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, but I realized that I wasn’t excited about my courses, so I switched to Civil Engineering, and loved it.  Don’t feel stressed like you have to have it all figured out – wherever you go to school, if you make decisions with both your heart AND your mind, it will lead you to where you were meant to be.

I received a “Road Map to Success” from one of the Corporate leaders of my firm that I have hanging in my cubicle and has really inspired me, and I’d love to share it with you:

  1. Act with integrity ALWAYS
  • Be the same person at work, school, or home
  1. Be willing to do anything, anytime anywhere
  • Have a can-do attitude and never stop trying to discover and learn, choose every day to be a happy person as people will always want to be around you!
  1. Find and emulate successful people
  • Be a sponge
  1. Get involved in your community
  • Help others and begin building your relationship network
  1. Always be a hero at home
  • Spend quality time with family and keep your commitments
  1. Focus your career on creating value NOT money
  • Creates a strong work ethic and a success-oriented mindset
  1. Always read for self-improvement and growth
  • Expands your thinking and gives you great talking points
  1. Take responsibility for your career development
  • Find mentors, go after your goals, and do not expect others to be responsible
  1. Get outside your comfort zone
  • Challenge yourself
  1. Become a detailed note taker
  • Ability to repeat spoken information is powerful

 

 

Scientist Spotlight: Sylvia Earle

The ocean is something that has fascinated many, including Sylvia Earle. Sylvia  was born August 30, 1935 in New Jersey. At age 13 her family moved to Florida and she received scholarships to Florida State University. Sylvia learned how to scuba dive and began studying botany to better understand marine ecosystems.

Sylvia received both her M.S. and PhD. from Duke University. Many scientists were impressed with the amount of detail Sylvia used in detailing aquatic plant life for her dissertation as no one had ever been so specific before. Since this detailed feat, Sylvia has made it her lifelong goal to document every species of plant found in the Gulf of Mexico.

Sylvia has spent over 7,000 hours underwater and even lived in a structure 50 feet underwater for two weeks. This underwater stay gained her fame and even a ticker-tape parade and a reception at the White House.

She has explored the ocean in all shapes and forms from photographing shipwrecks to walking the ocean floor at “a lower depth than any human before or since.” She most recently set a record for also diving at a depth of 1,00 meters. Keep in mind this was in 2012 when Sylvia was seventy-seven years old.

Sylvia has served as the Chief Scientist of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and has over 22 honorary degrees. She founded Deep Ocean Exploration and Research, Inc., Mission Blue and SEAlliance, and served as chair of the Advisory Councils of the Harte Research Institute and the Ocean in Google Earth. Sylvia has led hundreds of ocean expeditions and was named the 2014 Glamour Woman of the Year along with many other honors such as the International Seakeepers Award and the 209 TED Prize.

Sylvia’s work in ocean and marine vegetation has been some of the most impressive in her field. Though her work may not be in the typical laboratory, Sylvia’s impact on the scientific community will be making waves for years to come.

 

To learn more about Sylvia and her ocean adventures:

http://www.achievement.org/autodoc/page/ear0bio-1

http://www.nationalgeographic.com/explorers/bios/sylvia-earle/

Scientist Spotlight: Jocelyn Bell Burnell

Jocelyn Bell Brunell, née Susan Jocelyn Bell, was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland in 1943. She is regarded as a great astronomer and astrophysicist, but it didn’t always seem like she would enter a highly academic field. When Jocelyn was 11, she took a British examination required for all who wanted a higher education. Jocelyn failed. At this, her family sent her to a boarding school which was lacking some science equipment but had a promising physics teacher.

Jocelyn ended up studying physics at Glagsgow University and received a doctorate in radio astronomy from the University of Cambridge. At Cambridge, Jocelyn worked with Anthony Hewish and helped him construct a large radio telescope to study quasars. It was when she was reviewing the printouts from the telescope that she noticed a “bits of scruff” like radio signals that were too regular and too fast to have originated from quasars.

Hewish and Jocelyn worked for moths to determine where these signals were coming from and even jokingly thought of the possibility of Little Green Men trying to communicate with earthlings. After using more specialized and sensitive equipment, Hewish and Jocelyn discovered that the radio signals were come from collapsed stars, donned “pulsars” by the media.

Despite her part in their discovery, Hewish and Martin Ryle were awarded the 1974 Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of pulsars, not Jocelyn. She did not really mind, however, because at the time of the discovery she was a student and did not think she would have been eligible because of her status anyway.

After her time at Cambridge, Jocelyn taught at the University of Southhampton and researched gamma ray astronomy. She also became a professor at the University College of London in addition to performing research and teaching in x-ray astronomy at the Mullard Space Science Laboratory. Jocelyn taught at the Open University and studied infrared astronomy at the Royal University in Edinburgh. She was appointed dean of science at the University of Bath and also became a visiting professor at Oxford.

Jocelyn was named Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1999 and Dame in 2007. She became a member of the Royal Society in 2003 and served as president of the Royal Astronomical Society and later on served as president of the Institute of Physics.

 

To learn more about Jocelyn:

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Jocelyn-Bell-Burnell

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/babell.html

 

 

 

Scientist Spotlight: Gertrude Elion

Gertrude Elion, daughter of a dentist, was born in New York City and raised in the Bronx. As a child she had an “insatiable thirst for knowledge” and enjoyed all of her school classes the same. This left her in a difficult position to decide on a major in college.  Seeing her grandfather suffer and die of cancer was a big factor that influenced her decision to study chemistry at Hunter College in 1933.

Because of the Great Depression, which was ongoing during her college years, Gertrude could not attend graduate school. At the time of her graduation, few jobs were available and the lab positions that were available were not open to women. After a short teaching job at the New York Hospital School of Nursing, Gertrude ended up working as a lab assistant with a chemist. She knew she would not be paid but thought the experience itself worthwhile. Gertrude did end up with a salary, however, and was able to enter graduate school at New York University. She was the only female in the graduate chemistry class but no one seemed to mind or consider it strange. After completing her courses and necessary research work, Gertrude earned her Master of Science degree in chemistry in 1941.

After some laboratory positions, Gertrude pursued her doctorate degree at Brooklyn Polytechnic Institute, taking classes at night. She was eventually informed she would need to give up her job in order to go to school fill-time. Gertrude decided to stay with her job under George Hitchings and to forgo her schooling. She later believed this decision to have been the right one because she received three honorary degrees from George Washington University, Brown University, and the University of Michigan.

With George, Gertrude expanded her area expertise from organic chemistry to biochemistry, pharmacology, immunology, and virology. Together the developed various new drugs effective against leukemia, gout, malaria, along with other ailments. George and Gertrude’s method was different than that of other scientists because instead of trial and error, they examined the differences in biochemistry between “normal human cells and those of cancer cells, bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens (disease-causing agents).”

Gertrude was frequently promoted and served as Head of the Department of Experimental Therapy from 1967 until her retirement in 1983. She served on boards for the National Cancer Institute in addition to many other health organizations.

In 1991, Gertrude received a National Medal of Science and was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame. She shares the 1988 Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with George Hitchings and Sir James Black.

To learn more about Gertrude:

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1988/elion-bio.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Gertrude-B-Elion

Scientist Spotlight: Emmy Noether

German-born Emmy Noether faced many obstacles in her perusal of mathematics, but she did not let anything stop her. Emmy became one of the greatest mathematicians of the twentieth century and made great contributions to her field.

Growing up, Emmy, like other upper middle class girls of the time, learned the arts and attended “finishing school.” She earned a certification to teach English and French but instead decided to attend a university to earn a degree in mathematics.

Emmy decided to try to take classes at the University of Erlangen where her father was a professor and her brother was a student. Because Emmy was a woman, she was denied the ability to take classes but was allowed to audit them, meaning she s could sit in on the class but could not receive a grade or credit. Emmy eventually took the exam which allowed her to be a doctoral student in mathematics and became a student at the University. Five years of studying later, and she was given the second degree to a woman in mathematics.

Because the University would not allow women professors, Emmy worked with her father at the Mathematical Institute of Erlangen but she did not receive pay. There she worked with Ernst Otto Fischer on theoretical algebra and later worked with other prominent mathematicians. At the University of Gottingen, David Hilbert and Felix Klein asked for her assistance with Einstein’s theories. With them, she proved two theorems that were fundamental parts for general relativity and elementary particle physics.

Emmy could not obtain a job at Gottingen because of her gender and could only lecture under Hiblert’s name, as his assistant. After Hilbert and Albert Einstein defended her, Emmy gained permission to lecture, but without pay. Eventually she earned a small salary.

Emmy gained a following and boys travelled from around Europe to study with her. Emmy also travelled around Europe giving lectures and eventually moved to the United States when the Nazis took over Germany. As a Jew, she was not allowed to teach in her home country. She became a guest professor at Bryn Mawr College and have lectures at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton.

Emmy made great impact in her field because she not only changed the way mathematicians viewed the subject, but she also did a lot of work on abstract algebra, ring theory, group representations, and number theory. Emmy had a unique perspective that brought a lot of new and different insight to the field. She is considered one of the greatest mathematicians of her time and Einstein even wrote a letter about her to the Times after her death. Emmy also won the Ackermann-Teubner Memorial Prize in mathematics.

After her death, Einstein referred about her saying, “In the judgement of the most competent living mathematicians, Fraulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began.”

To learn more:

https://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/noether.html

https://www.agnesscott.edu/lriddle/women/noether.htm

Scientist Spotlight:Frances Glessner Lee

Frances Glessner Lee went by many names and titles, one of which being the “mother of forensic science.”  Born in 1878 to a household that exemplified the nineteenth-century ideals. Fanny, as her family called her, was the heiress to the International Harvester (now known as the Navistar International Corporation) fortune and a socialite. Both Fanny and her brother were home-schooled, but when it came time for higher education her brother went to Harvard and Fanny married a young attorney. Fanny desired to study law or medicine, but her parents believed “a lady didn’t go to school.” Though the marriage seemed happy at first, after three children Fanny got divorced and never remarried.

At age 44 Fanny began her interest in forensics. She was fascinated by the mysterious stories told by her brother’s friend, Harvard classmate, and later Boston medical examiner, George Burgess Magrath. He would tell her all about the crimes he would help solve. She learned about the issues regarding criminal investigations. Coroners did not need medical degrees and police were unknowledgeable on how to correctly preserve evidence, allowing many of the guilty to walk free.

After her parents’ death, Fanny endowed a department of legal medicine at Harvard, making George Magrath the chair, and established the George Burgess Magrath Library of Legal Medicine. Five years later in 1936, medical examiners were graduating from Harvard but cases were still going unsolved. This prompted Fanny to start Harvard Seminars in Homicide Investigation (later renamed the Harvard Associates in Police Science seminars). She took the seminars very seriously and handpicked all the details from the menus to the flowers, ignoring the fact she would be the only women among over 30 men. The first seminar concluded with a banquet served on $8000 dinnerware at the Ritz Carlton.

As beneficial and luxurious as the seminars were, the officers still needed more practical

nutshell

A crime scene from inside one of the Nutshells.

training but there were time constraints and privacy issues. At this point, Fanny returned to the miniature-making she used to do in her childhood and marriage, and began making dollhouse dioramas of crime scenes, the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Fanny believed that crimes could be solved after a detail analysis of the crime scene. In her dioramas, she combined details from real-life cases and presented all different scenarios, including misleading probable causes of death. The goal was not to solve the crime, but to pay attention to the details and potential evidence, facts that could distinguish between a murder, suicide, or accidental death. Fanny donated the houses to Harvard in 1945 to be used in the seminars, but when the department of legal medicine was dissolved in 1966, they were moved to the Maryland Medical Examiner’s Office, and are still used today for forensic seminars.

Fanny became the first female police captain for the New Hampshire State Police, and the first woman invited into the International Association for Chiefs of Police.

During Fanny’s time, it would have been unheard for a woman to discuss a morgue or crime scene. Not wanting to be confined to societal standards, the Nutshells allowed Fanny to enter the forensic field and earn recognition, while still retaining her domesticity. This balance that Fanny found ushered in a new era of crime-solving and eventually led to the crime investigation television shows that we know and love today.

 

To learn more about Fanny and her Nutshells:

http://harvardmagazine.com/2005/09/frances-glessner-lee-html

http://www.deathindiorama.com/francesglessnerlee.html#fn1text

Scientist Spotlight: Barbara McClintock

What does corn, a Nobel Prize, pants, and jumping genes all have in common? Barbara McClintock.

Barbara was born on June 16, 1902 in Harford, Connecticut. She was christened Eleanor, but her parents called her Barbara as they believed Eleanor to be too feminine for their feisty daughter.

All throughout high school, many teachers saw Barbara’s intelligence and thought her to be a good fit for a college professor. Barbara’s mother opposed the idea of a female college professor and would not allow Barbara to attend college. Finally, in September 1919, Barbara’s father convinced her mother to allow Barbara to attend Cornell University at the age of 17. She immensely enjoyed herself at Cornell and even became president of the women’s freshman class.

In the fall of 1921, Barbara attended the only genetics course available to undergraduates at Cornell University. Though genetics was not accepted as a “field” at that time, Barbara was highly interested in it and this was evident to her professor, Dr. Claude Hutchinson.  He invited her to participate in the only other genetics course at Cornell, one at the graduate level. This sealed Barbara’s fate as a geneticist.

A cytology at Cornell also piqued Barbara’s interest. She became fascinated with the power of chromosomes and decided to pursue an advanced degree in cytogenetics. It was during graduate school that Barbara began her chromosomal analysis of corn, a project that would last her a lifetime.

In 1931, Barbara and a colleague published a paper that established chromosomes the basis of genetics. Two years later Barbara was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship to study in Germany, but returned home early because of the rise of Nazism.  Upon her return to the United States, Barbara learned Cornell would not hire her as a female professor because she was a woman. Rockefeller University then decided to fund Barbara’s research at Cornell.

In 1936, Barbara ended up received a position at the University of Missouri. Her intelligence, spunk, and no-nonsense attitude intimidated her male colleagues. She was considered a troublemaker because she wore pants to work. The dean even threatened to fire her if she got married or if her male research partner left. This treatment prompted Barbara to leave the university and move to Cold Spring Harbor, New York in 1941.

While in New York, Barbara examined the variations in the colors of corn kernels and discovered that genetic information is not stationary. After spending many hours staring at corn cells under a microscope, Barbara discovered that the genes could “jump” to different parts of a chromosome and turn on and off. This was a groundbreaking discovery and explains why the world is filled with so much variation.

When Barbara shared this information in 1951, few believed her but she did not mind because, as she said, “When you know you’re right, you don’t care.”

It took the scientific community 20 years to recognize Barbara’s achievements. The determination of DNA as the genetic material allowed other scientists to verify Barbara’s work. She was swamped with awards and honors, most prominently the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1983, almost 30 years after her initial discovery. Barbara was the first woman to be the sole recipient of the award. She was also the America’s first woman president of the Genetics Society and the first person to develop a complete genetic map of corn.

Much of what is known about chromosomes can be attributed to Barbara: the feisty, pants-wearing, corn-studying cytogeneticist.

 

 

To learn more about Barbara and her corn:

https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1983/mcclintock-bio.html

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Barbara-McClintock

http://www.famousscientists.org/barbara-mcclintock/

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