The right chemistry: Ladies crushing it

800px-gerty_theresa_radnitz_cori_1896-1957_and_carl_ferdinand_cori

 

If you reach back in the dusty, cobwebbed shelves of your high school science class, you might remember learning about the Cori cycle or the lactic acid cycle, which describes the process of breaking down glucose. What I don’t remember learning when I sat in Mr. Chisolm’s 9th-grade chemistry class was that this fundamental biochemical process was jointly discovered by Gerty Cori and her husband Carl. It definitely didn’t occur to me that there may have been a woman behind the Cori name.

Gerty overcame so many barriers to make a contribution to science. From the beginning, she lived at a time when it was rare for women to be permitted to attend medical school or pursue science. This powerful gender discrimination followed her throughout her career. Additionally, she came from a Jewish family and thus faced racism in the increasingly anti-Semitic Austia-Hungary, ultimately motivating her migration to the United States in 1922.

Gerty and her husband continued to collaborate, despite the university discouraging this, but their best science was the science they did together.

The research that Gerty and Carl did on glucose metabolism ultimately won them the Nobel Prize in 1947.

Despite Gerty’s prolific and important research contributions, it took Gerty an extra 13 years to receive the same academic status as her husband and collaborator. Despite the 70 years that have passed since Gerty’s promotion to professor and joint receipt of the Nobel Prize, this gender bias seems to still have its grips in academia. Recently, I had a sobering conversation with a spectacularly successful and brilliant mentor, who told me that she feels that it took her much longer and was required to have a much more spectacular CV compared to her male colleagues in order to receive a professorship.

The relationship Gerty had with her partner extended beyond the lab. and they shared many passions and interests, their connection reaching far beyond the intellectual realm.  They were apparently avid mountain climbers, wine lovers, and would host dinner parties. They would regale their friends with tales of their adventures. Towards the end of her life, as she got progressively weaker from her rare condition (Myelosclerosis), her husband would scoop her up and carry her between their two labs, collaborating until the very end. I definitely have new #relationshipgoals now!

Towards the end of her life, as she got progressively weaker from her rare condition (Myelosclerosis), her husband would scoop her up and carry her between their two labs, collaborating until the very end. I definitely have new #relationshipgoals now!

Thanks Gerty for doing awesome biochemistry stuff!!


In a really bizarre twist, this female pioneer and trailblazer is strangely tied to Phyllis Schlafly, controversial anti-feminist conservative. Gerty’s son (Tom) is married to Phillis’s daughter (Anne)! If you want to hear more about the “arch nemesis of second-wave feminism”, listen to this Stuff Mom Never Told You episode.

 

 

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