The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Mildred Cohn begins the interview by reflecting on her childhood, education, and family life, describing how she was prepared to enter college by age fourteen. She then discusses her undergraduate experience at Hunter College, recalling the difficulties she encountered as a woman in the sciences. She continues by recounting her graduate years at Columbia, where, after working for a short time at the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, she began her work with isotopes in Urey's lab. She tells of her experience working with du Vigneaud at George Washington and Cornell universities and contrasts that with the much more independent atmosphere of the Cori's lab at Washington University in St. Louis. Finally she describes her years at the University of Pennsylvania and highlights the most fulfilling aspects of her work. She concludes with her analysis of the future of biochemistry and advice for those, especially women, interested in pursuing a career in the natural sciences.
|1931||City University of New York, Hunter College||BA||Chemistry|
National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics
George Washington University
Weill Cornell Medical College
Washington University in St. Louis
Harvard Medical School
University of Pennsylvania Medical School
Fox Chase Cancer Center
|1952 to 1958||
Established Investigator, American Heart Association
Garvan Medal, American Chemical Society
|1964 to 1978||
Career Investigator, American Heart Association
National Academy of Sciences
American Philosophical Society
ScD, Medical College of Pennsylvania
Cresson Medal, Franklin Institute
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Foreign Member, Institut de Biologie Physico-Chimique, Paris, France
ScD, Radcliffe College
Award, International Organization of Women Biochemists
Award, US Senior Scientist, Humboldt Foundation, Federal Republic of Germany
ScD, Washington University, St. Louis
Chancellor's Distinguished Visiting Professorship, University of California, Berkeley
National Medal of Science
ScD, University of Pennsylvania
ScD, Brandeis University
ScD, Hunter College
Award, American Academy of Achievement
ScD, University of North Carolina
|1985 to 1989||
Visiting Professor of Biological Chemistry, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Chandler Medal, Columbia University
Distinguished Service Award, College of Physicians, Philadelphia
Honorary National Member, Iota Sigma Pi
Remsen Award, Maryland Section, American Chemical Society
Ph.D. (honorary), Weizmann Institute of Science, Israel
ScD, University of Miami
Table of Contents
Parents come to the United States. Early education. Interest in chemistry develops. Early social and home life. Graduates high school at fourteen and enters college despite age and gender.
Difficulites of being a young woman in college. Lack of high-caliber chemistry curriculum. Organic chemistry course. Professor Hendel sparks interest in physical chemistry. Encourages development of science courses for non-science majors. Preparing for graduate school. The typical Hunter student of the time. Work during the summers.
Catching up in organic chemistry, thermodynamics, and the phase rule. Courses and association with Urey. Unexpected lack of research opportunities. Receives master's degree. Unable to continue education because of lack of funds; teaching assistantships unavailable to women.
Begins as junior scientific aide doing computational work. Becomes chemist in the Fuel Injection Section. Publishes first two articles. Discriminated against because female. Leave of absence to return to school.
Attempts to enter all-male chemical engineering program to no avail. Enrolls in chemistry courses to pass qualifying examination for PhD program in chemistry. Chooses Urey as research director. Meets Henry Primakoff (future husband). Works on isotopic separation and exchange. Learns deuterium analysis. Travels to Princeton to use mass spectrometer. Studies isotopic oxygen echange in the liquid state quite successfully. Received PhD. Accepts a postdoc with Urey. Anti-Semitism.
Begins work in biochemistry using deuterium as a tracer with du Vigneaud, who is reluctant to accept a woman. Marriage. Attitude of Columbia University administration and chemistry department toward students.
Continues work with du Vigneaud. Uses Columbia's facilities to make deuteromethyl alcohol.
Exciting intellectual environment. Seminars by professors at the frontiers of their fields.
Publications with du Vigneaud. Work with transmethylation and amino acid metabolism. Discovery of transmethylation in rats. Studies conversion of methionine into cystine in rats. Du Vigneaud's relationship with his postdocs.
Works with Carl Cori's department. Interest in phosphorylation begins. Difficulties of working and raising children during the war. Sets up radioactive isotope laboratory. Builds mass spectrometer. Comparison of instrumentation, laboratory organization and milieu, and financial support at Washington University versus Cornell. Family members in science. Husband's physics position and its impact on her research. Studies hydrolysis of glucose-1-phosphate.
Reason for accepting temporary position at Harvard. Impetus for paper on oxidative phosphorylation. Learns to prepare active mitochondria. Paul Boyer's work on the 18O phosphate exchange.
Continues work on oxidative phosphorylation. Interest in enzyme mechanisms of kinases and use of EPR. Works on enzymatic transfer of phosphoryl groups. Earlier magnetochemistry work. Exploratory studies of molybdenum proteins. Turns from EPR to NMR. Becomes established investigator for the American Heart Association.
Works in Kreb's laboratory on sabbatical. Conceives of investigating phosphorus in ATP and ADP with NMR.
Interest in looking at 31P in ATP, ADP, and AMP. Very limited access to Varian's NMR instrument.
Traveling to Urbana to use NMR spectrometer. Collaborated on grant proposal to NIH for Washington University spectrometer. Modification of the spectrometer to include temperature control. pH dependence of the chemical shifts of ADP and ATP. Effects of magnesuim, zinc, and calcuim on the 31P chemical shift. Appointed associate professor. Reason for shift in research emphasis during the 1960s.
The Johnson Foundation. Circumstances of first visits to Penn. Full professorship. Studies function and role of ATP in enyzme reactions. Uses relaxation rates to study how manganese is bound. Receives Garvan Award. Jack Leigh. Comparison of Penn with Washington University. Graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. Career investigatorship with the American Heart Association. Research on EPR spectra of protein-bound manganese and on 31P NMR of enzyme-bound substrates. Works with thio analogs of ATP.
The Fox Chase Center. Initiates collaboration on study of regulation of kinase activity by calmodulin using proton NMR.
Involvement in American Society of Biological Chemists (ASBC) and American Chemical Society (ACS). Editorial board of Journal of Biological Chemistry. Agenda, style of leadership, and accomplishments as first woman president of ASBC.
Established and Career Investigatorships with American Heart Association. Suggests Garvan Award be limited to women under forty. Comments on most satisfying research. Election to National Academy of Sciences.
Discussion of past progress and future of techniques and instrumentation. Shift in emphasis in the biochemistry field from pathways and mechanisms to regulation. Advice for young students; hot fields.
About the Interviewer
Leon Gortler is a professor of chemistry at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. He holds AB and MS degrees from the University of Chicago and a PhD from Harvard University where he worked with Paul Bartlett. He has long been interested in the history of chemistry, in particular the development of physical organic chemistry, and has conducted over fifty oral and videotaped interviews with major American chemists.