Gertrude Elion is Scientist Emeritus at Wellcome Research Laboratories in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Her research helped develop drugs for treatment of such diseases as leukemia, malaria, gout, herpes and, most recently, AIDS.
Seeing the effects of disease firsthand in a member of her own family persuaded Gertrude Elion to devote her career to science, in the hopes that she could someday discover cures.
"When I was about to graduate from high school, the only thing about my future I was sure of was that I wanted to have a career (an unusual goal for girls in those days). The question was, a career in what? I was interested in so many different subjects (like history, art, science) that I couldn't make up my mind.
It was about this time that my mother's father who lived with us had cancer. My grandfather and I were very close - I was the apple of his eye. He was taken to the hospital and, after a while, I was allowed to visit him. Seeing him there, I remember how shocked I was at his change in appearance. It was the first time I really understood how awful disease could be. I wondered how this happened to people. In the hope that I could do something to combat disease, I decided to become a scientist."
As a young woman, Gertrude Elion's first job in science was as an unpaid lab assistant. Later on, when she had proved herself at this job, she received a salary of $12 a week. Although she doesn't hold a Ph.D., Gertrude Elion has been awarded nine honorary doctorates in addition to the Nobel Prize.
Elion says that students will be inspired to experience the wonders of science by reading Microbe Hunters by Paul DeKrieff.
She says it is a fascinating book that reveals the rewards to be gained from science.
Adapted from Curiosity is the Key to Discovery: The Story of How Nobel Laureates Entered the World of Science, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services 1992
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