Women Laureates of the Nobel Prize (Part I)

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“We are the children of the atom” – this particular line, when spoken by Klaus Schmidt, or Sebastian Shaw if you may, made most X-Men fans’ hair stand on their skin. However, was what he said in any way – wrong? Of course not! Which poses a bigger question – If most of us are aware that we’re the children of the atom, are we also aware of those individuals whose endless contributions to the field of science have brought us where we are today?

The answer for the second, in most cases, is in the negative.

Many contributions are nameless, or remain unrecognised, and those which are recognised, are awarded with the prestigious Nobel Prize.

What is the Nobel Prize? How did it all begin?

“On 27 November 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace – the Nobel Prizes. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. Each prize consists of a medal, personal diploma, and a cash award. A person or organization awarded the Nobel Prize is called Nobel Laureate. The word “Laureate” refers to being signified by the laurel wreath. In Ancient Greece, laurel wreaths were awarded to victors as a sign of honor.”

The Nobel Prizes are widely regarded as the most prestigious awards given for intellectual achievement in the world. Of the 876 Nobel Laureates since 1901, only 44 have been women.
It took 40 years from its inception for the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences to be awarded to a woman, Elinor Ostrom. This is despite the fact that one woman, Bertha von Suttner was influential in convincing Alfred Nobel to establish a Prize for Peace.

All the women who have been awarded with the Nobel Prize are listed below with respect to their field(s) of contribution:


1911, Marie Sklodowska Curie –
Affiliated to the Sorbonne University in Paris, she received the Nobel Prize in the field of nuclear chemistry, “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element”.

1935, Irene Joliot-Curie –
Affiliated to the Institut du Radium, Paris , Marie Curie’s daughter was co-awarded the Nobel Prize with her husband, Frederic Joliot, “in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements”.

1964, Dorothy Crowfoot Hodgkin –
In the fields of Biochemistry and Structural Chemistry, with her affiliation to the Royal Society of Oxford University, Hodgkin’s was recognised as a worthy Laureate “for her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”.

2009, Ada E. Yonath –
For “studies of the structure and function of the ribosome”, Yonath, affiliated to the Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel, was awarded the Nobel Prize with co-recipients Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz.


1903, Marie Sklodowska Curie –
In “recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel”, she was a co-recipient of her first Nobel Prize with Henri Becqurel and her husband, Pierre Curie, in the field of Nuclear Physics.

1963, Maria Goeppert Mayer –
Affiliated to the University of California, USA, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in the field of Nuclear Physics, along with Eugene Wigner and J. Hans D. Jensen, “for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure”.

Physiology & Medicine:

1947, Gerty Radnitz Cori –
Affiliated to the Washington University, USA, at the time of the award, she was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize with Carl Cori and Bernardo Houssay, in the fields of biochemistry, metabolism, and physiology, “for their discovery of the course of the catalytic conversion of glycogen”.

1977, Rosalyn Sussman Yalow –
In the fields of diagnostic techniques, endocrinology, metabolism, she shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine with Roger Guillemin and Andrew V. Schally, “for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones”, when affiliated to the Veterans Administration Hospital, Bronx, NY, USA.

1983, Barbara McClintock –
She received the honour for her contribution to the field of genetics, “for her discovery of mobile genetic elements”, with affiliation to the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, NY, USA.

1986, Rita Levi-Montalcini –
Affiliated to the Institute of Cell Biology of the C.N.R, Rome, Italy, she received the Nobel Prize with Stanley Cohen, “for their discoveries of growth factors”, in the fields of biochemistry and cell physiology.

1988, Gertrude Elion –
Sharing the Nobel with Sir James W. Black and George H. Hitchings, they received it “for their discoveries of important principles for drug treatment”.

1995, Christiane Nusslein-Volhard –
She received the Nobel Prize for the contribution tot he fields of developmental biology, embryology and genetics, with co-recipients Edward B. Lewis and Eric F. Wieschaus, “for their discoveries concerning the genetic control of early embryonic development”.

2004, Linda B. Buck –
Affiliated to the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Seattle, USA, when she received the honour along with Richard Axel, in the fields of genetics and neurophysiology, they were recognised “for their discoveries of odorant receptors and the organization of the olfactory system”.

2008, Francoise Barre-Sinoussi –
She was awarded the Nobel along with Harald zur Hausen and Luc Montagnier, in the fields of disease transmission, immunity, virology, “for their discovery of human immunodeficiency virus”, more commonly known as HIV.

2009, Elizabeth H. Blackburn (left) and Carol W. Greider (right) –
Co-sharing the Nobel with Jack W. Szostak in the field of genetics, they received the honour “for the discovery of how chromosomes are protected by telomeres and the enzyme telomerase”.


2009, Elinor Ostrom –
Affiliated to Indiana university, she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Economics for “her analysis of economic governance, especially the commons”.

Literature and Peace -> to be continued in “Women Laureates of the Nobel Prize (Part II)”.

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