2018

June 2018

Maud Menten (1879 – 1960)


When we think about reaction kinetics, many of us might recall the Michaelis-Menten equation – perhaps one of the first things we learn about enzyme reactivity in our biochemistry classes. But did you know that the equation is named for Canadian physician Maud Menten? Menten was born in Port Lambton, Ontario and was one of the first Canadian women to receive a medical degree. She attended the University of Toronto where she earned her Bachelor of Arts degree, Masters of Physiology degree, as well her medical degree. Unfortunately, women were not permitted to conduct research in Canada, so she completed her PhD at the University of Chicago in 1916. Her seminal work on enzyme kinetics was published in 1913 with biochemist Leonor Michaelis in Berlin, Germany. The Michaelis-Menten equation, used to determine the reaction rates of enzymes, helped shape modern biochemistry and enzymology. She was also an early pioneer of protein separation by gel electrophoresis and studied human hemoglobin using this method before Linus Pauling! Menten passed away in 1960 at the age of 81 in Leamington, Ontario and was posthumously inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 1998.

 

May 2018

Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)


Most of us see curium, element 96, and think of the woman it was named after, Marie Curie. But did you know there is another element on the periodic table named after a woman? The synthetic element 109, of which there have been fewer than 10 atoms made, was named after Austrian-Swedish physicist Lise Meitner.
Born into a Jewish family in Vienna, Austria in 1878, Lise Meitner was one of eight children of Philip Meitner, who was one of the first Jewish lawyers in Austria. In 1901, she began her studies in physics under Ludwig Boltzmann (of the Boltzmann distribution or the Boltzmann constant in statistical mechanics) at the University of Vienna, and in 1906 she became the second woman to receive a doctoral degree in physics at the university. After graduation, she moved to Berlin where she attended lectures from famous physicist Max Planck and joined German chemist Otto Hahn, who she worked with for 30 years.
Meitner’s list of accomplishments is quite impressive, including her discovery of element 91 protactinium in 1918 and the Auger effect in 1923. Her claim to fame however lies in the discovery of nuclear fission – the splitting of an atomic nucleus into smaller parts. This finding, however, was made in 1939, one year after Meitner was forced to flee Germany due to the Nazi takeover. As a result of her move, her meetings with co-worker Hahn were done in secret, leading to Hahn taking most of the credit for the discovery. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944, with Lise Meitner’s contribution largely ignored until 1966 when she was awarded the Enrico Fermi Award – a prestigious award for excellence in research surrounding technology and energy science that benefits mankind. After living a fulfilling life, Lise Meitner passed away in her sleep in October 1968 at the age of 89.

 

April 2018

Paulette Spencer (??? – Present)


Dr. Paulette Spencer is engaged in the creation of new biomaterials specifically for improving the health of our teeth. A well-rounded researcher, her five (!) degrees from the University of Missouri-Kansas City, University of Minnesota, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute include an interdisciplinary PhD in Oral Biology and Physics. Spencer is a pioneer in the development of non‐destructive techniques for in situ characterization of structure/property relationships at material/tissue interfaces, especially the use of Raman spectroscopy to image biological samples. She was integral to propagating the idea of interfacial degradation in dentistry – the weakening of materials at interfaces – which also happens to be one of the most common reasons for the failure of dental fillings. Many restorative dental procedures (70%) are simply to replace previous failed materials. Spencer desires to develop new multi-functional materials to repair, reconstruct and regenerate oral and craniofacial tissues. She has received numerous honours and awards, including the Fulbright U.S. Scholar Award to Brazil for “Driving Biomaterials Discovery”. She is the current director of the Bioengineering Research Center at the University of Kansas. 

 

March 2018

Mae Jemison (1956 – Present)


Dr. Mae Jemison is an American chemical engineer, NASA astronaut, physician, and professor. She traveled aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992, becoming the first African American woman to travel in space.
Dr. Jemison was born in Alabama in 1956, and grew up in Chicago. She graduated from Morgan Park High School at 16 years of age, then went on to attend Stanford University where she earned a B.S. in Chemical Engineering. In 1981, she earned a Doctor of Medicine degree from Cornell University. During her studies at Cornell, she traveled to Cuba, Kenya and Thailand to provide medical care. After graduation, Dr. Jemison served in the Peace Corps as a Medical Officer from 1983 to 1985 where she was responsible for the health of volunteers serving in Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Upon returning to the U.S., Dr. Jemison worked with Cigna Health Plans of California as a general practitioner. In 1987, she became the first African-American woman to be admitted into NASA’s astronaut training program. In 1992, she flew into space aboard the Endeavour on mission STS47, becoming the first African-American woman in space. After leaving NASA in 1993, she assumed teaching positions at Dartmouth University, followed by Cornell University.
Dr. Jemison is an advocate of science education in schools that encourage minority students to pursue STEM careers. Her entrepreneurial activities include founding the Jemison Group to develop technology for daily life, and the creation of BioSentient Corp to develop portable technology to monitor the nervous system. She has won many awards including the Kilby Science Award in 1993 and the Intrepid Award by the National Organization for Girls in 2003.

 

February 2018

Wangari Maathai (1940 – 2011)


Wangari Maathai (born April 1, 1940) was an ecologist and environmental activist from Kenya. She studied Biology at Mount St. Scholastica College in the US and received her master’s degree in Biology from the University of Pittsburgh in 1966. She studied at the University of Giessen and the University of Munich in Germany and received her PhD in Veterinary Anatomy from the University of Giessen in 1971, becoming the first East African woman to receive a PhD. She worked as a lecturer in anatomy at the University of Nairobi and was the first woman there to become an associate professor. She was active in environmental nongovernmental organizations and the National Council of Women of Kenya (NCWK). She ran for a parliamentary seat in 1982, but after a political battle she was barred from running. She then started the Green Belt Movement in partnership with the NCWK and the Norwegian Forestry Society. This organization empowers women in rural areas to plant trees to support environmentalism, build community, and provide tangible benefits to people’s lives. Since its inception, over 30,000 women have been trained by the organization.
In the proceeding decades Maathai was involved in much environmental and political activism in Kenya. She was elected to parliament in 2002 and was appointed assistant minister of the Ministry for Environment and Natural Resources. She received the 2004 Nobel Peace Prize for her “contributions to sustainable development, democracy, and peace,” making her the first African woman and first environmentalist to win the prize. Wangari Maathai died in 2011 of ovarian cancer.

 

January 2018

Evangelina Villegas (1924 – 2017)


Dr. Evangelina Villegas was a Mexican biochemist whose research led to the development of quality protein maize. She and her colleague, Dr. Surinder Vasal, received the 2000 World Food Prize for the impact of their work on improving productivity and nutrition in malnourished and poverty-stricken areas.
Born in 1924 in Mexico City, Villegas earned a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry and biology at the National Polytechnic Institute. She began her career as a research chemist in 1950 at Mexico’s National Institute of Nutrition and at the Special Studies Office, that would later become the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT). She left for a brief period to earn a Master of Science degree in cereal technology from Kansas State University and a doctoral degree in cereal chemistry and breeding from North Dakota State University, in 1967.
While in charge of the lab investigating protein quality, she partnered with Surinder Vasal, a CIMMYT maize breeder, to develop a variety of maize with higher levels of lysine and tryptophan, two key amino acids. Their many years of research culminated in the creation of quality protein maize, which featured enhanced levels of both amino acids, while maintaining the texture and flavour of conventional maize. Quality protein maize has consistently shown to be particularly effective in improving the nutritional status of young children.
Villegas was the first woman ever to receive the World Food Prize and was named “Woman of the year” in Mexico in 2000 for her accomplishments. She passed away in April of 2017.

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