Judith P. Klinman

Judith P. Klinman

Judith Klinman. Courtesy Judith P. Klinman.

Judith P. Klinman (b. 1941) studies how proteins and enzymes do everything from letting our bodies use oxygen to regulating neurotransmitters. She looks for the fundamental properties that underlie these reactions, often using isotope tracers to uncover the chemical steps involved.

Klinman was born Judith Pollack and grew up in Philadelphia. She became interested in science early on and excelled at school, but her family was not wealthy and her parents were not sure they could afford to pay for college. Wanting to study chemistry at the University of Pennsylvania, she earned a partial scholarship and convinced her parents to let her enroll. Her mother went to work to help pay the costs not covered by the scholarship.

Judith graduated and made plans for graduate school. A friend recommended she apply to Harvard University, but she did not feel confident enough, even though she had just graduated second in her class from Penn, an Ivy League school. Instead she applied to New York University and was accepted. There she met Norman Klinman, and they married in 1963.

She and her husband soon transferred together to the University of Pennsylvania to finish their doctorates. While a graduate student, Klinman gave birth to their first son. When her husband finished his Ph.D. in 1965, he took a job at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot, Israel. Klinman completed her Ph.D. in physical-organic chemistry in 1966 and also found postdoctoral work at the Weizmann Institute. There she began using radioactive isotopes to study important chemical reactions in the body. After 16 months at the institute, she joined Norman briefly in London, where he had accepted a research position at University College. She was allowed to do research while there, but unlike her husband, she did not get paid for her work.

Returning to the United States, Klinman joined the Institute for Cancer Research in Philadelphia, where she was a research scientist from 1968 to 1978. In 1978 she became the first woman professor in the chemistry department of the University of California, Berkeley, where she continues to do research on enzymes today. During the course of her career she has received many honors from her scientific peers including election to the National Academy of Sciences and to the presidency of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. Commenting on how things have progressed for women in the sciences, she has said, “I look at the young women today, and I am so in awe of the changes that have taken place.”

Hear It Firsthand

The Center for Oral History captures and preserves the stories of notable figures in chemistry and related fields, with over 425 oral histories that deal with various aspects of science, of scientists, and of scientific practices. For more information please visit CHF’s Oral History Program or e-mail oralhistory@
chemheritage.org
.

Stories from the Field

Listen to career insights and stories of scientific adventures from women in chemistry.

Connect with CHF

Distillations

Listen to the latest episodes of CHF’s award-winning science podcast.