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Isabella Karle

Born December 2, 1921 (1921-12-02) (age 88)
Detroit, Michigan
Nationality United States
Fields Crystallography
Alma mater University of Michigan
Notable awards National Medal of Science

Isabella Lugoski Karle (born December 2, 1921) has made a number of major contributions to the development of x-ray crystallography. In 1969 she established the structure of venom extracted from South American frogs. This was followed in 1975 with the structure of valinomycin.[1]

Born Isabella Lugoski in Detroit, Michigan, USA, on December 2, 1921, the daughter of immigrants from Poland, she attended the local public schools, where a female chemistry teacher led her to her pursuit of the field as a career.[2] She attended the University of Michigan on full scholarship, where she majored in physical chemistry and received a Bachelor of Science at age 19, followed by Master of Science and Ph.D. degrees in the field. She worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, where she developed techniques to extract plutonium chloride from a mixture containing plutonium oxide.[3]

She joined the United States Naval Research Laboratory after the end of the war. Karle advanced the practical uses of the work her husband, Nobel Prize winner Jerome Karle, did on using X-ray scattering techniques to directly determine the structure of crystals, a technique that is used to study the biological, chemical, metallurgical and physical characteristics, allowing processes to be designed to duplicate the molecules being studied. This technique has played a major role in the development of new pharmaceutical products and other synthesized materials.[3]

Isabella (seated center) and Jerome Karle (left foreground) at their 2009 retirement ceremony

On July 31, 2009, she and her husband retired from the Naval Research Laboratory, after a combined 127 years of service to the United States Government, with Karle joining the NRL in 1946, two years after her husband.[3] Retirement ceremonies for the Karles were attended by United States Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus, who presented the couple with the Department of the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award, the Navy's highest form of recognition to civilian employees.[3]


  1. ^ Karle, I L (March 1973). "Successful women in the sciences: analysis of determinants. I. Individual life experiences. Crystallographer". Ann. N. Y. Acad. Sci. (UNITED STATES) 208: 11–4. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.1973.tb30812.x. ISSN 0077-8923. PMID 4572877.  
  2. ^ Staff. " profile", Journal of Chemical Education. Accessed September 22, 2009.
  3. ^ a b c d McKinney, Donna. "Jerome and Isabella Karle Retire from NRL Following Six Decades of Scientific Exploration", United States Naval Research Laboratory press release dated July 21, 2009. Accessed September 22, 2009.


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