You are now entering the Jewish Currents archive.

January 23: The Nobel-Winning High School Teacher

Lawrence Bush
June 23, 2010

elion at workGertrude Belle Elion, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was born in the Bronx on this date in 1918. She was a graduate of Hunter College and NYU but as a woman she was unable to find research work in the 1930s. Elion wound up teaching chemistry at Jamaica High School. Burroughs Wellcome Laboratories finally hired her in 1944 (when many male chemists were doing military work), and by the end of her career she held forty-five patents for lifesaving drugs and had trained the team that developed AZT, the most widely used antiretroviral treatment for AIDS.
“The thrill of seeing people get well who might otherwise have died of disease ... cannot be described in words. The Nobel Prize was only the icing on the cake.” —Gertrude Belle Elion

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.