Monday, October 31, 2016

Eradicating Pestilence: Alice Evan’s Crusade in Microbiology

Adamantly defending her sensational research, Alice Evans was a bacteriologist who illuminated people to the dangers of unpasteurized milk. Although she faced constant criticism for her research on freshly drawn unpasteurized milk she was able to invoke a significant change in the ideology of bacteriological research. Her contributions to bacteriology and infectious disease research have positively impacted people worldwide. Even though she was a woman she was able to have a successful career in science. She was respected by her peers and able to complete important research for the United States government during a time when women were not expected to pursue any type of professional career.
Alice Catherine Evans was born on January 29th, 1881 in rural Pennsylvania. She was the second of two children. Her mother immigrated to the United States at the age of 14. Her father had been a surveyor, teacher, farmer, and a Civil War soldier. Once she finished secondary school she became a teacher since it was the only profession available to women in rural Pennsylvania. Although she though that teaching was rewarding she eventually became bored due to the monotony of a repeating curriculum. A two-year tuition free nature study course for rural teachers at Cornell University would allow her to cultivate her budding interest in science. After completing the program, she received a bachelor’s degree specializing in bacteriology.

Once Evans received her bachelor’s degree she was able to attend the University of Wisconsin to pursue a master’s degree in bacteriology. She increased her knowledge of chemistry at the University and was even offered funding to pursue a PHD in Chemistry. In addition to receiving an opportunity to pursue a PHD she was also offered a position with the United States Department of Agriculture. Since she did not consider herself prepared to pursue a PHD in Chemistry, and since a PHD was not required for advancement in science at that time she decided to accept the position with the Department of Agriculture.

At the Department of Agriculture Wisconsin division Evans studied ways to improve the flavor of cheddar cheese. While working in the division she was able to coauthor four publications. While working in Wisconsin, Evans was appointed to a position at the United States Department of Agriculture Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington D.C. After accepting the position in D.C. Evans became anxious because of rumors that claimed that the division in D.C. did not want any women. Once she arrived at the division her fears subsided since the people she worked with seemed to not have any problems with working with a woman. While working in D.C. she discovered that Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis, bacteria found in freshly drawn milk, were closely related enough that both could potentially cause people to develop Undulant fever. Undulant fever or Brucellosis which it currently named, is an illness that involves chronic fever, fatigue, and many other debilitating symptoms. She published her research in the Journal of Infectious Diseases in 1918.

Her research was initially met with widespread skepticism from many science and healthcare professionals since bacteria with different morphological characteristics were never considered to be closely related by bacteriologists. Even though her claims were contested by many people, her research would eventually be supported by many studies. After publishing her research on Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis she joined the United States Public Health Service Hygienic Laboratory, where she completed research on relevant world health issues such as the influenza pandemic and epidemic meningitis. While continuing her research on Bacillus abortus and Micrococcus melitensis, Evans contracted Undulant fever in 1922. She would suffer from the symptoms of the condition for many years before fully recovering.  She was elected president of the Society of American Bacteriologists in 1928. This society would later become the American Society for Microbiology which honored her through creating an award in her name which is given to a person who contributes to the participation of women in microbiology. Toward the end of her career she researched immunity to streptococcal infection until she retired. She continued to be a strong advocate of the participation of women in science until she died in 1975.

By Grayland Godfrey

American Society for Microbiology. The American Society for Microbiology.  Accessed 19 Oct. 2016.
“Brucellosis.” Center for Disease Control and Prevention,
Colwell, R. R. “Alice C. Evans: Breaking Barriers.” The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 72.5 (1999): 349–356. Print.
Evans, A. C. “Memoires”. 1963. Early Women of Science at NIH. Office of History National Institute of Health. IN 19 Oct. 2016.

Moreno, Edgardo. “Retrospective and Prospective Perspectives on Zoonotic Brucellosis.” Frontiers in Microbiology 5 (2014): 213. PMC. Web. 19 Oct. 2016.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Women in Science - Dr. Fierro, Forensic Pathologist

An accomplished forensic pathologist, Dr. Marcella Fierro is one of the forefront women in the field of forensic scientist. From humble beginnings at the University at Buffalo to Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia, Dr. Fierro continues to be an inspiration to girls and women interested in medicine and forensic science. During the time when Dr. Fierro was earning her medical degree, women with college degrees made up less than 10% of the US population – women were typically not guided toward the medical field. However, she persevered and proved both to herself and to others around her that women would be just as capable as men in any field.

During her tenure as Chief Medical Examiner, she was the medical examiner that oversaw the first case in the country to use DNA evidence in prosecution as well as the Virginia Tech shooting. She handled both of these cases as a wife and a mother of two. In addition to the many responsibilities she had as medical examiner, she was also a prominent member to multiple organizations and associations such as the National Association of Medical Examiners.

Although Dr. Fierro was a pioneer for women in the field of forensic science/forensic medicine, she has said in interviews that she was not discriminated against, nor did she experience any overt sexism. However, she had dealt with police officers who were doubtful of her skills as a medical examiner. She explained that she overcame these challenges by proving these officers wrong time after time by arriving at every crime scene with professionalism, experience and extreme knowledge of material.

Dr. Fierro has also served as the inspiration for a fictional medical examiner in a popular series written by Patricia Cornwell. While the books are considered fiction, she has continued to motivate for women in science through this medium as well.

By Ashley Cooley