Rosalyn Yalow

Rosalyn Yalomw was a nuclear physicist. She developed radioimmunoassay (RIA) together with doctor Solomon Berson. RIA is used to measure small concentrations of substances in the body, such as hormones in the blood. Rosalyn Yalow and Solomon Berson tracked insulin by injecting radioactive iodine into patients’ blood. Because the method is so precise, they were able to prove that type 2 diabetes is caused by the body’s inefficient use of insulin. Previously it was thought that the disease was caused by a lack of insulin.

Dr. Yalow received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977 together with Roger Guillemin and Andrew V. Schally.  In response to this, Dr. Yalow wrote a biographical essay about her life, influences, work experience and partnerships with other researchers. It is a very beautifully-written and impressive and moving history and it was published on the Nobel Prize website.  She describes for example, “hanging from the rafters in Room 301 of Pupin Laboratories (a physics lecture room at Columbia University) when Enrico Fermi gave a colloquium in January 1939 on the newly discovered nuclear fission.”

In another phase of her life, while being newly married and taking two background undergraduate classes, three graduate courses in physics, serving as a half-time assistant teacher, as well as being an observer of another instructor so as to improve her own teaching skill, she received straight As in two of her classes and an A- in one. In response, the Chairman of the Physics development told her “That A- confirms that women do not do well as laboratory work.”

Awards & Honors

  • Awarded the title of Distinguished Service Professor at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine 
  • Member of the National Academy of Sciences
  • Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award
  • A. Cressy Morrison Award in Natural Sciences of the N.Y. Academy of Sciences
  • Scientific Achievement Award of the American Medical Association
  • Koch Award of the Endocrine Society
  • Gairdner Foundation International Award
  • American College of Physicians Award for distinguished contributions in science as related to medicine
  • Eli Lilly Award of the American Diabetes Association
  • First William S. Middleton Medical Research Award of the VA and five honorary doctorates
  • Nobel Prize winner 1977