Evelyn Witkin: Wonderful inspiration for women in science

This past Sunday, September 11th, was a special day for me. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Evelyn Witkin at the 15th Women’s Partnership for Science Luncheon held at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory.

Every year, several female philanthropists from New York come to the event to support biomedical research in the lab. This year, the event had Evelyn Witkin as the guest speaker. She is a professor emerita at Rutgers University, and has been an important geneticist who recently was awarded the Lasker Basic Medical Research Award for her important work on DNA repair.

Through her talk entitled ”Serendipity in Spades: My crooked path to Cold Spring Harbor “ she told the story of how she joined the lab and her discoveries there. A particular story started when she was an undergraduate at New York University. Back in 1940, she and several students had a petition protesting against racism to black athletes. The university suspended all the students involved including her. So, she went up to Columbia University and asked Dr. Dobzhansky to join his lab. Later in 1944 she came to Cold Spring Harbor where she isolated UV radiation-resistance mutants of E. coli  (read more here and here), which became a main focus of her PhD research. She was a key researcher in the field of DNA repair in bacteria (read more here).

In her honor, I was commissioned to do a couple of paintings that were part of the event: invitations, party favors and a special gift for Evelyn.  I want to share with you two paintings that were part of the event, the first one is called “Secrets of Life” and it represents Mendel’s peas and classic genetics interlaced in the shape of DNA.

Secrets of Life

 The other painting is called “Autumn Colors” and it features a magical spot at Cold Spring Harbor, the view of the harbor through the gazebo during the fall. The original painting was a lab gift to Evelyn. 

Autumn Colors

Evelyn Witkin with her gift from Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. Photo: Constance Brukin.

She is a fantastic inspiration for women that are pursing a career in science. She was a pioneer scientist when it was not common to find women at the bench. So if you want to, or are currently pursing a career in science, whether you're a man or a woman, think of her as an inspiration to keep up on your dreams.