Isabella Karle (1921 – 2017)

Isabella Karle (1921 – 2017)

Author: Catharina Goedecke


Isabella Helen Karle (née Lugoski) was born on December 2, 1921, in Detroit, MI, USA. She studied chemistry at the University of Michigan, where she received her B.S. in 1941, her M.S. in 1942, and her Ph.D. in 1944. On the path to her Ph.D., Karle overcame several obstacles, from her high school teacher’s opinion that “chemistry is not a proper field for girls” to the fact that posts for teaching assistants were only given to male postgraduate students in chemistry.

During grad school, Isabella met Jerome Karle, who she married in 1942. The couple worked together throughout their career, Jerome focusing on the theory and Isabelle on the practical aspects of their research. After graduating, the Karles worked on the Manhattan Project in Chicago for a short time. They developed techniques to extract plutonium chloride from mixtures containing plutonium oxide. Then, the couple joined the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory (NRL), Washington, D.C., where they remained until their joint retirement in 2009.

Jerome Karle and Herbert Aaron Hauptman developed the theoretical foundation for the direct determination of crystal structures from X-ray diffraction data. Isabella translated their work into practical procedures. The two men received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this work in 1985. Many researchers in the crystallography community, including Jerome Karle, believed that Isabella should also have been honored.

Among other honors, Karle received the Society of Women Engineers Achievement Award in 1968, the Hillebrand Award from the American Chemical Society (ACS) in 1969, the Federal Woman’s Award from the U.S. Civil Service Commission in 1973, the Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Science in 1988, and the Bower Award from the Franklin Institute in 1993. Isabelle Karle died on October 3, 2017, in Arlington, VA, USA.

Isabella Karle is the answer to Guess the Chemist (120).


Selected Publications

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