Isabella L. Karle, who was once told that chemistry was not a “proper field for girls” but went on to help her husband, Nobel laureate Jerome Karle, devise a pathbreaking method for determining molecular structure, died Oct. 3 at a hospice center in Arlington, Va. She was 95.
The cause was a brain tumor, said her daughter Louise Karle Hanson. Dr. Karle spent more than six decades at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C., with her husband.
- Isabella Helen Lugoski was born in Detroit on Dec. 2, 1921.
- In her youth, the future Dr. Karle drew inspiration, her daughter said, from a female high school chemistry teacher and from a biography of Marie Curie, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist who, like Dr. Karle’s parents, was born in what is now Poland.
- A teacher once advised her on the impropriety of chemistry as a topic of study for young women.
- She received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1941.
- Dr. Karle earned a master’s degree in 1942 and a PhD in 1944.
- She met her husband in a physical-chemistry lab where alphabetical seating dictated that the two of them — Karle, Lugoski — would sit next to one another.
- During World War II, she worked on the Manhattan Project.
- Dr. Karle joined the Naval Research Laboratory (NRL) in 1946, two years after her husband was hired there.
- Early in her career, she studied molecules in the vapor state.
- Both Karles retired in 2009.
The late chemist’s honors included:
- 1988 Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences
- 1993 Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science (worth $250,000)
- Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award
- 1995 National Medal of Science, bestowed by President Bill Clinton
She was also a member of the National Academy of Sciences.
The Karles worked side by side at the NRL’s Laboratory for the Structure of Matter, accumulating a combined 127 years of federal service.
Before the prize-winning work that the Karles pursued with Hauptman in the 1950s, scientists could discern molecular structure only through the time-consuming and painstaking process of X-ray crystallography, in which X-rays were reflected off a molecule and their patterns then examined.
For many years, the method languished, unnoticed by other scientists.
Among those molecules were toxins and antitoxins; drugs to treat bacterial infections, malaria and heart ailments; anticarcinogens; and explosives.
When Jerome Karle received the Nobel, he said he hoped the honor would one day be extended also to Isabella.
Jerome Karle later died in 2013 after 71 years of marriage.