ALD22: Professor Fumiko Yonezawa, Theoretical Physicist

Fumiko Yonezawa

Professor Fumiko Yonezawa

Born in 1938, Fumiko Yonezawa, 米沢 富美子, was a theoretical physicist who studied amorphous materials, semiconductors and liquid metals.

Her career began when she studied amorphous materials, or glasses, as part of her doctorate at Kyoto University in the mid-1960s. She developed the Coherent Potential Approximation (CPA), a method for calculating physical characteristics, such as density or resistivity, of amorphous materials.

Later, at Keio University, Yonezawa and her team studied how, at an atomic level, liquids become crystals or amorphous solids, using computational models. She spent some time at City College of New York, returning to Japan in 1981. In the 1990s, she developed a “theory of metal-insulator transition in liquid selenium” and became interested in neural networks.

In 1984, she was awarded the Saruhashi Prize, which is awarded to Japanese women for research in the natural sciences, for her “Theory of Fundamental Physical Properties of Amorphous Materials”. She was the first woman to become President of the Physics Society of Japan in 1996 and, in 2005, she won a L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for “pioneering theory and computer simulations on amorphous semiconductors and liquid metals.”

In 2020, the Physical Society of Japan launched the Fumiko Yonezawa Memorial Award to “honor and encourage” female members of the society, presenting awards to five women in physics in Japan.

Fumiko Yonezawa died on 17 January 2019, aged 80.

Further Reading

ALD22: Professor V Narry Kim, Biochemist and Microbiologist

V Narry Kim

Professor V Narry Kim

V Narry Kim, born in South Korea in 1969, is a biochemist and microbiologist at Seoul National University (SNU) working primarily with microRNA biogenesis.

She first became interested in science as a high school student and, in an interview, said she chose it as a lifelong career because of her fascination with “the simplicity of the principles underlying the complexity of life”. She completed an undergraduate degree in microbiology and a master’s degree in microbiology at SNU. She then graduated from the University of Oxford with a PhD in biochemistry on retroviral proteins.

After her PhD, Kim took a research assistant position at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Pennsylvania studying messenger RNA surveillance, the mechanism by which cells double-check the quality of their messenger RNA molecules. On completing her postdoctoral research, she returned to SNU in 2001 where she started working as a research assistant professor, eventually becoming a distinguished professor.

Kim founded the Centre for RNA Research at the Institute for Basic Science (IBS), where her research focuses on RNA-mediated gene regulation. Her lab has made significant contributions to the understanding of how microRNAs – small single-stranded non-coding RNA molecules that play a key part in regulating gene expression – are created and processed in animal cells. She and her colleagues developed a new technology to eliminate specific microRNAs which when applied to cancer cells led to a drop in their proliferation rate. This may result in new gene therapies.

Kim has received several awards including the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science, Ho-Am Prize in Medicine, Korean S&T Award, and was named Woman Scientist of the Year by South Korea’s Ministry of Science and Technology. She also has several patents for her work, such as an HIV-based gene delivery vector. She was elected a foreign member of the Royal Society in 2021.

Further Reading

ALD22 Podcasts: Ologies, Alie Ward

Ologies, Alie Ward

Volcanoes. Trees. Drunk butterflies. Mars missions. Slug sex. Death. Beauty standards. Anxiety busters. Beer science. Bee drama. Take away a pocket full of science knowledge and charming, bizarre stories about what fuels these professional -ologists’ obsessions. Humorist and science correspondent Alie Ward asks smart people stupid questions and the answers might change your life.

Recent episodes: 

  • Mountain goats are not goats. And there’s only one living species, Oreamnos americanus. WHAT?? Montana-based wildlife biologist and Oreamnologist Julie Cunningham talks about her work studying these animals. 
  • How many legs? Why so many legs? What’s a millipede versus a centipede? And again WHY SO MANY LEGS. Ologies has just the guy for that: Diplopodologist Dr. Derek Hennen.
  • How do societal structures affect the planet? Why should we get to know our neighbours? What’s the ecological price we pay for … stuff? Ologies chats with the founder of Critical Ecology: biogeochemist, National Geographic Explorer, researcher and plant nerd, Dr. Suzanne Pierre.
  • If you have a physical body, or know someone who does, this episode is for you! Hello, we’re all going to die. And we’re probably all going to lose someone we love. Ologies talks to thanatologist Cole Imperi. 
  • Cheloniologist Dr Camryn Allen met up with Alie on a tropical island (ok, in a hotel room on a tropical island) to chat about flipper slappings, turtle rodeos, nesting BBs, current surfing, endangered statuses, field work, sleeping under water, and more. 

You can:

Listen on Apple
Follow on Twitter: @Ologies @AlieWard 

ALD22: Professor Marie Maynard Daly, Biochemist

Marie Maynard Daly

Professor Marie Maynard Daly

Prof Marie Maynard Daly was a biochemist who co-discovered the link between high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and the clogged arteries that can cause heart disease and strokes.

Marie Maynard Daly was born in 1921, in New York City. Her interest in science was spurred in part from her father’s thwarted ambition to become a chemist and from reading about scientists in her grandfather’s library – in particular, the book Microbe Hunters by Paul de Kruif.

In 1942, she graduated magna cum laude from Queens College with a bachelor’s in chemistry. She finished in the top 2.5 percent of her class and earnt the honour Queens College Scholar. She got her master’s from New York University and, in 1947, her doctorate from Columbia University. She was the first African American woman to earn a PhD in chemistry in the United States, as well as being the first African American to earn a PhD in any subject from Columbia University. Daly’s doctoral research explored how the enzyme amylase acts during digestion.

She worked at Howard University for two years before moving to the Rockefeller Institute, where she spent seven years studying the composition of the cell nucleus and how proteins are made. She discovered direct experimental evidence that RNA is required for protein synthesis. The importance of her work was noted by James Watson and Francis Crick in their 1962 Nobel Prize speech.

In 1955, she went back to Columbia University where she studied the causes of heart attacks with Quentin Deming, before the pair moved to continue their work at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Together, they discovered the link between high cholesterol and clogged arteries, or atherosclerosis, which can result in heart attack or stroke. Daly’s groundbreaking rat studies, where she measured their cholesterol levels, blood pressure and how damaged or clogged their arteries were, indicated a strong correlation between high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Her work has served as a foundation for research into atherosclerosis and related diseases.

Daly investigated the damage that cigarettes have on the heart and lung circulatory systems and collaborated on a study that found lesions in the lungs of dogs that were exposed to chronic cigarette smoke. She also studied histones, a type of protein that plays a key part in gene expression, controlling whether a gene is turned on, or “expressed”, carefully cataloguing histones’ properties and composition.

Outside her work, Daly was interested in supporting African American and other minority students in pursuing STEM careers. She started a scholarship at her alma mater, Queens College, to support minority students interested in physics or chemistry, in honour of her father.

She also assisted with the Martin Luther King Robert F Kennedy program run at Albert Einstein College, which provided advice and guidance on admission for minority students. Daly spoke about her experiences as a minority woman in science to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, culminating in the report, The Double Bind: The Price of Being a Minority Woman in Science.

Daly was included as one of the National Technical Association’s top 50 women in Science, Engineering and Technology in 1999. She died in 2003, aged 83.

Further Reading

ALD22: Professor Jewel Plummer Cobb, Cell Biologist and Cancer Researcher

Jewel Plummer Cobb

Professor Jewel Plummer Cobb

Jewel Plummer Cobb was a biologist who discovered how skin cells produce melanin and how they become cancerous. She also discovered that methotrexate was an effective treatment for some skin and lung cancers and childhood leukaemia.

Born in 1924 in Chicago, Cobb graduated from Talladega College in Alabama with a degree in biology in 1944, earning her master’s and then her doctorate in cell physiology from New York University. Her research focused on understanding how skin cells produce melanin and how those cells become cancerous. Her doctoral thesis, Mechanisms of Pigment Formation, examined the enzyme tyrosinase, which is required for skin cells to produce melanin, which is what causes colour in human skin.

After finishing her PhD, she spent two years at the Harlem Hospital Cancer Research Center where she developed a deep understanding of how to culture human tissue directly from a sample taken from a person. Few people understood these techniques in the 1950s. She became skilled at culturing cancer cells taken from patient biopsies and used these cultures to study the effect of various chemotherapy drugs on the cells’ morphology, migration and growth.

In 1952, she started her own laboratory which was the first tissue culture-based lab at the University of Illinois Medical School. She combined her early research on skin pigmentation and melanin with her newer work on cancer.

Two years later, she moved her lab back to Harlem, and began working with Jane Wright to study the effect that chemotherapy drugs had on melanoma, a type of skin cancer. Wright worked with the patients, and Cobb worked with cells cultured from the patients’ samples. They realised that Cobb’s results could help predict which treatments would work for each patient and type of cancer. Cobb used non-cancerous tissue samples as controls, something which wasn’t common practice at the time because it was so hard to culture non-cancerous cells.

In the early 1960s, Cobb and Wright showed that methotrexate was effective for treating several cancers, including skin and lung cancer, and childhood leukaemia. Cobb also worked with mice that had been bred to be more susceptible to skin cancer, and discovered that cells with more melanin were protected from damage caused by exposure to radium and X-rays. This was the first evidence that melanin protects cells from UVA/UVB light.

In 1969, Cobb became the first black dean at Connecticut College, where she began programs to encourage women and people of colour to study STEM and explore STEM careers. She later became the first black woman to be appointed to the National Science Board, which supervises the National Science Foundation.

Cobb died in 2017, aged 92.

Further Reading