World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Mildred Cohn

Mildred Cohn
Born (1913-07-12)July 12, 1913
New York City, New York, U.S.
Died October 12, 2009(2009-10-12) (aged 96)
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA
Residence U.S.
Nationality United States
Fields Physical Biochemistry
Institutions University of Pennsylvania
Alma mater Hunter College, Columbia University
Notable awards Garvan–Olin Medal (1963)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1975)

Mildred Cohn (July 12, 1913 – October 12, 2009)[1][2] was an American biochemist who furthered understanding of biochemical processes through her study of chemical reactions within animal cells. She was a pioneer in the use of nuclear magnetic resonance for studying enzyme reactions, particularly in Adenosine triphosphate (ATP).[3] She received the nation's highest science award, the National Medal of Science, in 1982.[4]


  • Life 1
  • Work 2
  • Achievements 3
  • Marriage 4
  • Partial Bibliography 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


Cohn's parents, childhood sweethearts Isidore Cohn and Bertha Klein Cohn,[3] were Jewish. Her father was a rabbi. They left Russia for the United States around 1907. Mildred Cohn was born July 12, 1913 in the Bronx, where her family lived in an apartment. When Mildren was 13, her father moved the family to a Yiddish-speaking cooperative, Heim Gesellschaft, which strongly emphasized education, the arts, social justice, and the preservation of Yiddish culture.[5][6]


External video
“I didn’t intend to be an assistant for the rest of my life; so I started a new field of research”, Chemical Heritage Foundation

Cohn graduated from high school at 14.[7] She went on to attend Hunter College, which was both free and open to all qualified women, irrespective of race, religion or ethnic background.[8] She received her Bachelor's cum laude in 1931.[7] She managed to afford a single year at Columbia University, but was ineligible for an assistantship because she was a woman.[8] After receiving her master's degree in 1932, she worked for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics for two years.[7] Although she had a supportive supervisor, she was the only woman among 70 men, and was informed that she would never be promoted.[8] She subsequently returned to Columbia, studying under Harold Urey, who had just won the Nobel Prize.[9][10] She wrote her dissertation on oxygen isotopes and earned her Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1938.[11]

With Urey's recommendation, Cohn was able to obtain a position as a research associate in the laboratory of St. Louis. There Cohn conducted post-doctoral studies on sulfur-amino acid metabolism using radioactive sulfur isotopes. Cohn pioneered the use of isotopic tracers to examine the metabolism of sulfur-containing compounds.[12] When du Vigneaud moved his laboratory to Cornell University Medical College in New York City, Cohn and her new husband, physicist Henry Primakoff, moved to New York as well.[8][13]

In 1946, divalent metal ions are involved in the enzymatic reactions of ADP and ATP by studying NMR spectra of the phosphorus nuclei and the structural change in the presence of various divalent ions. [12]

In 1958, she was promoted from research associate to associate professor.[8] In 1960, Cohn and her husband joined the University of Pennsylvania. Mildred was appointed as an associate professor of Biophysics and Physical Biochemistry, and became a full professor the following year.[2][13] In 1964, she became the first woman to receive the American Heart Association’s Lifetime Career Award, providing support until she reached age sixty-five.[15] In 1971, she was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.[8] In 1982, she retired from the faculty as the Benjamin Rush Professor Emerita of Physiological Chemistry.[13]

In the course of her career, Mildren Cohn worked with four Nobel laureates, who received three Nobel prizes:


Cohn wrote 160 papers, mostly on her primary research subject of using nuclear magnetic resonance to study ATP.[14] She received a number of honorary doctorates.

She won the American Chemical Society’s

  • Interview with Mildred Cohn, December 15, 1987 and January 6, 1988, from the Oral History Program at the Chemical Heritage Foundation
  • Mildred Cohn, Ph.D.: The Science of Fearlessness, Video, 18 min 43 sec, from The Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry, at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA

External links

  1. ^ a b Schudel, Matt (October 23, 2009). "Mildred Cohn, 96; acclaimed scientist overcame bias". Washington Post. 
  2. ^ a b c d Martin, Douglas (November 11, 2009). "Mildred Cohn, Biochemist, Is Dead at 96".  
  3. ^ a b c Oakes, Elizabeth H. (2007). Encyclopedia of world scientists (Rev. ed.). New York: Facts on File. p. 145.  
  4. ^ a b Maugh, Thomas H. (2009-10-13). "Mildred Cohn dies at 96; chemist applied physics to problems of biology, earned National Medal of Science". Los Angeles Times. 
  5. ^ Mildred Cohn, Ph.D.: The Science of Fearlessness, Video, 18 min 43 sec, from The Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry, at the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia, PA.
  6. ^ "Mildred Cohn: The Science of Fearlessness (Film Transcript)". from The Catalyst Series: Women in Chemistry,  
  7. ^ a b c d "Mildred Cohn (Oral History)".  
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Wasserman, Elga (2002). The door in the dream: conversations with eminent women in science (Reprinted in pbk. ed.). Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.  
  9. ^ a b "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1934: Harold C. Urey". The Nobel Foundation. 1934. 
  10. ^ "Mildred Cohn".  
  11. ^ "Mildren Cohn (1913–2009)". American Chemical Society. 
  12. ^ a b Kresge, Nicole; Simoni, Robert D.; Hill, Robert L. (2009-11-06). "Succeeding in Science Despite the Odds; Studying Metabolism with NMR by Mildred Cohn". The Journal of Biological Chemistry 284 (45): e12–e13.  
  13. ^ a b c d e "Mildred Cohn (b. 1913)". Bernard Becker Medical Library. 
  14. ^ a b c Johnson, Erica P. (2003-10-06). "First Person | Mildred Cohn (Interview)". The Scientist. 
  15. ^ Barrer, Betty. "Mildred Cohn". Jewish Women's Archive. 
  16. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1947: Carl Cori, Gerty Cori, Bernardo Houssay". The Nobel Foundation. 1947. 
  17. ^ "The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1955: Vincent du Vigneaud". The Nobel Foundation. 1955. 
  18. ^ "Francis P. Garvan-John M. Olin Medal". American Chemical Society. 
  19. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter C". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved July 25, 2014. 
  20. ^ Hyman, Paula E.; Moore, Deborah Dash, eds. (1997). Jewish women in America. New York: Routledge.  
  21. ^ De Bary, William Theodore; Mathewson, Tom, eds. (2006). Living legacies at Columbia. New York: Columbia University Press. p. 208.  
  22. ^ "The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details, Mildred Cohn". The National Science Foundation. 
  23. ^ "Mildren Cohn - National Women's Hall of Fame". National Women's Hall of Fame. 


  • Cohn, Mildred; Hughes, T. R. (1960). "Phosphorus magnetic resonance spectra of adenosine diphosphate and triphosphate. I. Effect of PH". The Journal of Biological Chemistry 235: 3250–3. 
  • Cohn, Mildred; Hughes, T. R. (1962). "Nuclear magnetic resonance spectra of adenosine di- and triphosphate. II. Effect of complexing with divalent metal ions". The Journal of Biological Chemistry 237: 176–81. 
  • Cohn, Mildred (1953). "A study of oxidative phosphorylation with 0-18 labeled inorganic phosphate". The Journal of Biological Chemistry 201: 735–50. 

Partial Bibliography

Mildred Cohn was married to physicist Henry Primakoff from 1938 until his death in 1983.[4] They had three children, all of whom earned doctorates.[8] Mildren Cohn is quoted in Elga Wasserman’s book, The Door in the Dream: Conversations With Eminent Women in Science, as saying “My greatest piece of luck was marrying Henry Primakoff, an excellent scientist who treated me as an intellectual equal and always assumed that I should pursue a scientific career and behaved accordingly.”[1][8]


During her career, Cohn achieved several gender firsts: She was the first woman to be appointed to the editorial board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, where she served as editor from 1958–63 and from 1968-73. She was also the first woman to become president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and the first female career investigator for the American Heart Association.[2][13] In 2009, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, New York.[2][23]

She was presented with the National Medal of Science by President Ronald Reagan in 1983 for 'pioneering the use of stable isotopic tracers and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the study of the mechanisms of enzymatic catalysis'.[22]

[21] in 1986.Chandler Medal She received Columbia University’s [7] in 1979.[20]

This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from World eBook Library are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.