Rosalyn Yalow In The World Of Medicine

This is the story of Rosalyn Sussman Yalow. A poor, but clever, Jewish girl that won the Nobel Prize.


In the 1950s, after the invention of the atomic bomb , nuclear energy  became something that people were afraid of. But, in that same decade, a few scientists worked very hard to show that it could also be used to save lives. They did this by applying nuclear energy to medicine. Among these scientists was Rosalyn Sussman Yalow. She would become the second woman ever to win the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1977.


Rosalyn grew up in the Bronx in the 1920s. She and her older brother, Alexander, had no books to read at home. Neither of their parents graduated from high school, but they wanted to send their kids to college. So, before Rosalyn was even in kindergarten, she and her brother was sent to the library to borrow books to read. Their weekly trips paid off. Rosalyn graduated high school, and got accepted to Hunter College. At that time Hunter was a tuition-free college for women. It was at this college that Rosalyn discovered her love for physics. She wanted to become a physicist !


This concerned her parents. In those times it was very unusual for women to be involved in STEM. So, her parents wanted Rosalyn to become a teacher. They thought that this would be more practical for a young woman in the 1940s. But two of Rosalyn’s Professors at Hunter encouraged her to continue. And so, she graduated from Hunter in 1941 and got accepted to the University of Illinois. This was a big achievement for a woman of her time. She was the only woman among 400 members at Illinois, and the first since 1917. The draft of young men into The Second World War had created an opportunity for a young woman in the sciences. Rosalyn was determined to make the most of this opportunity.


Rosalyn’s path to success continued as she received her PhD in 1945 . She then started to work at the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx. This is where Rosalyn started the research that led her to win the Nobel Prize. She and her research partner, Dr. Solomon Berson, discovered that patients being treated with animal insulin were producing antibodies against it. This gave them the idea for radioimmunoassay (RIA). This technique is used to measure concentrations of substances in the body, such as hormone levels in blood. It was so precise, it was like detecting half a lump of sugar in a lake 62 miles long and 30 feet deep.


Their discovery was ground-breaking and helped to shape the world of medicine as we know it today. Thanks to Rosalyn’s work, many diseases can now be tested, diagnosed, and treated. This invention could have made both Rosalyn and Solomon very rich. But when they were given the opportunity to make a lot of money, they said no. She wanted her work to be available to everyone. For this, she can be seen as a true medical hero.


Shortly before receiving the Nobel Prize , Rosalyn said:

“We must believe in ourselves or no one will believe in us. We must match our aspirations with the guts and determination to succeed. For those of us who have had the good fortune to move upward, you must feel a personal responsibility to serve as role models and advisors to ease the path for those who come afterwards.”


Rosalyn Yalow passed away in May 2011, at the age of 89. She led a long and successful life. She is outlived by her daughter, son, and two grandchildren. Her husband, Aaron Yalow, died in 1992.

Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 7.9


Flesch Kincaid reading ease score: 63.9


Antibodies: proteins that your body makes to help fight infection and help protect you from getting sick in the future


Atomic bomb: a bomb created from either splitting atoms or from forcing them together


Hormone: special chemicals in your body that act as messenger molecules


Insulin: a hormone that reduces the level of glucose (a type of sugar) in the blood


Nuclear energy: the energy stored inside an atom by the forces that hold the atom together


Physicist: a scientist that specializes in physics


Radioimmunoassay: a method for measuring concentrations of substances in the blood

Howes, R. H. (2011, October). Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (1921-2011). Forum on Physics and Society.Rosalyn Sussman Yalow (b. 1921). (n.d.). Retrieved from


Rosalyn Yalow and Solomon Berson. (n.d.). Chemistry in History. Retrieved from


The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1977: Roger Guillemin, Andrew V. Schally, Rosalyn Yalow. (n.d.). Retrieved from.

Pizzi, Richard A. (n.d.). Rosalyn Yalow: Assaying the Unknown. Modern Drug Discovery. Retrieved from


Rosalyn Yalow. Women Who Changed Science. Retrieved from


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