ALD23: Professor Tsai-Fan Yu, Physician and Researcher

Professor Tsai-Fan Yu

Professor Tsai-Fan Yu, 郁采蘩, was a renowned Chinese-American medical doctor whose pioneering research helped make gout a curable disease. The first woman to be appointed full professor at the prestigious Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, she discovered medicines that are still used today to treat and prevent gout and kidney stones.

Yu was born in Shanghai in 1911 and attended Peking Union Medical College on a full scholarship, graduating with the highest honours on her medical degree in 1939. That year, she became the school’s chief resident in internal medicine, an unprecedented position for a woman at the time. She emigrated to New York in 1947, becoming a US citizen three years later.

Upon arriving in New York, Yu initially taught at the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1957, she joined the staff faculty at Mount Sinai Hospital, where she would remain for the rest of her career.

It was at Mount Sinai that Yu began to focus her research on gout, a disease that causes sudden swelling and severe pain in the joints. Alongside her colleague Dr Alexander Gutman, she discovered that the pain experienced by gout patients is due to elevated levels of uric acid in the body. This in turn can solidify into sharp crystals around joints, causing arthritis. Yu also identified links between gout and other medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes, and helped establish one of the first systematised lab tests for diagnosing rheumatoid arthritis.

Before Yu, gout had been considered a progressive, deforming disease that could only be managed with extreme dietary restrictions, surgery and even amputation. But from the gout clinic she co-founded at Mount Sinai, she built up a reputation for translating lab findings into real-world solutions. Her clinical studies in the 1950s and 1960s led to the development of many new gout medications including allopurinol, colchicine and probenecid, all of which are still used to treat and prevent the disease today.

In 1973, Yu became the first woman to be appointed as a full professor at Mount Sinai Hospital. She published more than 220 scientific journal articles before retiring in 1992, research that was continuously funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 26 years. Overall, she is estimated to have worked with more than 4,000 patients suffering from gout.

However, Yu’s impact was not purely scientific. So beloved was she by her patients, they held annual “Gout Club” meetings in her honour. She lived until the age of 95, dying on 2 March 2007.

Yu’s awards included the Distinguished Career Achievement Award from the Mount Sinai Medical Center and the Master Award from the American Association of Rheumatology.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Professor Lina Stern, Neurophysiologist and Biochemist

Professor Lina Stern

Professor Lina Solomonovna Stern, Лина Соломоновна Штерн, was a Russian biochemist and neurophysiologist. A world-renowned scientist during her lifetime, she was one of the first researchers to identify what is now known as the blood-brain barrier, and conducted pioneering research on the central nervous system.

Stern was born on 26 August 1878 in Libau in the Russian Empire (today part of Latvia). She dreamed of becoming a doctor, but was denied entry to Russian universities due to her Jewish heritage. Aged 20, she moved to Switzerland and embarked on a medical degree at the University of Geneva, graduating in 1903.

Not long after completing her medical training, Stern took an assistant job in the university’s physiology department, where she pursued original research in biochemistry and neuroscience. With physiologist Frédéric Battelli, she published more than 50 papers on subjects including the effects of electrical discharge on the heart and the physiology of blood.

Particularly notable was Stern and Batelli’s work on respiratory enzymes, which has been recognised as groundbreaking by generations of scientists. Decades before the British biochemist Hans Krebs identified the citric acid cycle (a series of chemical reactions that release stored energy through the oxidation of a particular molecule), Battelli and Stern’s experiments had revealed many key steps in the process. When Krebs received a Nobel Prize for his work in 1953, he paid tribute to Stern and Batelli.

In 1918, Stern became a physiological chemistry professor at the University of Geneva – the first woman to hold such a post in any department at the institution. She was increasingly interested in the physiology of the central nervous system, particularly what is now known as the blood-brain barrier (BBB). Between 1918 and 1925, Stern co-authored several studies that demonstrated the existence of what she called the “hematoencephalic barrier”. While previous scientists had proposed the concept of the BBB, Stern’s experiments played a vital role in confirming its existence.

Stern returned to the USSR in 1925, having been invited to lead the physiology department at the Second Moscow State University. There, she organised scientific laboratories and continued her research, publishing 49 journal articles in three years. In 1929, she founded the Russian Institute of Physiology, where groups of scientists continued to investigate the BBB, among other subjects. A landmark paper by Stern in 1934 showed that the BBB selectively allows certain substances to enter while protecting the inside of the brain, today recognised as two of the barrier’s main functions.

Stern’s research was not limited to the BBB. In 1939, she proposed injecting potassium phosphate into the scalp (known as suboccipital injection) to address traumatic shock, a controversial treatment used during World War II to help wounded soldiers. She later used suboccipital injection to provide patients with a new medication for tuberculosis meningitis (TBM). This approach proved relatively successful in aiding recovery from what had previously been considered an incurable disease, and Stern and colleagues received a patent for TBM treatment.

Several years in Stern’s later life were hard. Increasing hostility to Jewish people in the USSR following World War II saw her expelled from all her scientific posts. In 1949, she was exiled to Kazakhstan for five years – a result of her involvement with anti-fascist committees associated with scientists and women.

However, after the death of Joseph Stalin, Stern returned to Moscow and led the physiology department at the Institute of Biophysics for 15 years. In a 1958 review of BBB studies, she left a dry acknowledgment of her time in exile: “Our scientific research was interrupted in 1948.” She worked in science until her death on 7 March 1968, aged 89.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23 Books: Blue Machine: How the Ocean Shapes Our World, Helen Czerski

Blue Machine: How the Ocean Shapes Our World, Helen Czerski

Blue Machine: How the Ocean Shapes Our World is a book that will recalibrate our views of a huge and defining feature of our home planet Earth – our ocean. All of the Earth’s oceans, from the equator to the poles, form a single engine powered by sunlight – a ‘Blue Machine’. This book uncovers what the Blue Machine does, why it works, and the many ways it has influenced animals, weather, and human history and culture.

Physicist and oceanographer Helen Czerski dives deep to illuminate the murky depths of the ocean. She examines the messengers, passengers, and voyagers that live in it, travel over it, and survive because of it. From the ancient Polynesians who navigated the Pacific by reading the waves, to permanent residents of the deep such as the Greenland shark (capable of living for hundreds of years), Czerski explains the vast currents, invisible ocean walls, and underwater waterfalls that all have their place in the ocean’s complex, interlinked system.

Timely, elegant, and passionately argued, Blue Machine presents a fresh perspective on what it means to be a citizen of an ocean planet. The understanding it offers is crucial to our future. Drawing on years of experience at the forefront of marine science, Czerski captures the magnitude and subtlety of Earth’s defining aquatic feature, showing us the thrilling extent to which we are at the mercy of this great engine.

Order the book on 

About the author

Dr Helen Czerski is, first and foremost, a physicist, but has become a renowned oceanographer, presenter, author, and bubble enthusiast along the way. Born and raised near Manchester, she became passionate about maths and science, which continued into her studies in Natural Sciences at the University of Cambridge and her PhD in experimental explosives physics.

After completing her PhD, she continued her search for subjects that could build upon her experiments but with applications in the natural world – which is how she developed an interest in bubbles and oceans at The Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, California. After her tenure as a postdoc at the Graduate School of Oceanography in Rhode Island, she returned to the UK to start her own research programme on the physics of oceanic bubbles at the University of Southampton; she now continues these studies at her current academic home, University College London.

Since 2011, she has been a frequent presenter for the Fully Charged Show and The Cosmic Shambles Network, alongside hosting an ocean podcast for the Bertarelli Foundation called Ocean Matters. She continues to be fascinated by the physics of the everyday world and the oceans as well as conveying the beauty and ingenuity of the physical world around us.

You can follow Helen Czerski’s work here:

Twitter: @helenczerski
Instagram: @helen_czerski

With thanks to Synergy for their support.

ALD23: Dr Lin Lanying, Materials Engineer

Dr Lin Lanying

Described as “the mother of semiconductor materials” in China, Dr Lin Lanying, 林兰英, was an engineer and physicist who contributed to the development of semiconductor and aerospace materials, particularly silicon. She is credited with developing the first monocrystalline silicon in China, a key semiconductor used as a component in virtually all modern electronic equipment to this day.

Lin was born on 7 February 1918 in Fujian, southeastern China. She graduated from Fukien Christian University in Fuzhou with a bachelor’s degree in physics aged 22 before moving to the United States, having been awarded a scholarship to attend Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. In 1931 she gained another bachelor’s degree in mathematics, followed by a doctorate in solid state physics from the University of Pennsylvania in 1955.

After finishing her studies, Lin was hired as an engineer at Sylvania Electric Products, a US manufacturer of equipment including semiconductors (crystalline materials that can serve as foundations for electronic devices such as computers). In 1957, she made the decision to return to China, despite attempts by FBI agents to persuade her to remain in the US due to hostility between the two countries.

Once back in her home country, Lin became a researcher at the Institute of Physics at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), before taking on a position at CAS’s Institute of Semiconductors, where she would spend the rest of her life as a scientist. At the Institute of Semiconductors, Lin spearheaded the development of several aerospace and semiconductor materials that had not yet been used in China, including monocrystalline silicon, gallium arsenide and germanium.

This foundational work has been credited with contributing to later breakthroughs in microelectronics and optoelectronics in China, including the invention of transistor radios. Lin is also believed to have built China’s first furnace to extract silicon metal.

In 1980, Lin was elected as an academician of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, becoming honorary director of the Chinese Institute of Electronics eight years later. She died on 4 March 2003, aged 85.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.

ALD23: Professor Michiyo Tsujimura, Agricultural Scientist and Biochemist

Professor Michiyo Tsujimura

Professor Emeritus Michiyo Tsujimura, 辻村みちよ, was an agricultural scientist, biochemist and educator, and the first woman to earn a doctoral degree in agriculture in Japan. Alongside her colleague Seitaro Miura, she discovered that green tea contains vitamin C. Tsujimura’s research into the chemical components of green tea and its corresponding health benefits is credited with helping to popularise the drink internationally, particularly in the United States.

Tsujimura was born on 17 September 1888 in what is now Okegawa, a city northwest of Tokyo. She initially worked as a high school teacher, but dreamed of a career in science. At the time, female students were rarely accepted into Japanese universities, which meant Tsujimura had to be creative. In 1920, she began volunteering as a laboratory assistant in the agricultural chemistry department at Hokkaido Imperial University, researching the nutrition of silkworms. The role was unpaid, but it got Tsujimura where she wanted to be: in a lab.

She transferred to the medical chemical laboratory at Tokyo Imperial University in 1922, but her time here was cut short when an earthquake destroyed key academic buildings. And so Tsujimura moved to the scientific research institute RIKEN, where she was accepted as a research student working on nutritional chemistry.

It was at RIKEN that Tsujimura discovered Vitamin C in green tea in 1924, co-authoring an article with Miura about their findings in the journal Bioscience, Biotechnology, and Biochemistry. Their research has been credited with dramatically boosting the market for green tea in the US. Tsujimura continued to study the chemical components of green tea throughout the 1920s and into the next decade, isolating and extracting the compounds catechin, tannin and gallocatechin, all of which are still recognised for their anticancer properties. In 1932, she was awarded her doctorate in agriculture from Tokyo Imperial University, the first woman to gain such a qualification in Japan.

Tsujimura held research positions at RIKEN before being appointed professor at Ochanomizu University in 1949. She also served as a lecturer at Jissen’s Women’s University and as the first dean of the faculty of home economics at Tokyo Women’s Higher Normal School. Over the course of her career she published more than 20 academic papers and continued to teach until 1963.

In 1968, Japan’s emperor honoured Tsujimura with an Order of the Precious Crown in recognition of her contributions to science. She died the following year on 1 June 1969, aged 80.

Her green tea research won her the Japan Prize of Agricultural Science in 1956.

Further Reading

Written by Moya Crockett, with thanks to Stylist for their support.