Dr. Mildred Cohn, the Benjamin Rush Professor Emerita of Physiological Chemistry, passed away October 12, 2009, of respiratory failure at the Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. She was 96 years old. Dr. Cohn earned her BA in chemistry from Hunter College in 1931 and her PhD in physical chemistry from Columbia University in 1938. After receiving her PhD, she held a postdoctoral fellowship at George Washington University in Washington DC, and a research associate position at Cornell Medical College.
In 1946, when Dr. Cohnís husband, the late physicist Dr. Henry Primakoff (Almanac September 6, 1983), received a faculty appointment at Washington University in St. Louis, Dr. Cohn was offered a research position in the biochemistry laboratory of the Nobel Prize-winning husband and wife team of Gerty and Carl Cori. Dr. Cohn joined the faculty as an associate professor of biochemistry in 1958 and remained at Washington University until 1960, when she and her husband came to the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Cohn joined the Universityís School of Medicine faculty in 1960 as an associate professor of biophysics and physical biochemistry and became a full professor the following year. In 1982 Dr. Cohn was named the Benjamin Rush Professor of Physiological Chemistry at Penn. From l982 to l985, Dr. Cohn was a senior scientist at the Fox Chase Cancer Center. After officially retiring in l985, Dr. Cohn remained involved in the world of science and in the life of the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr. Cohn overcame both gender and religious discrimination to have a profound impact on biochemistry and biophysics. She published over 160 articles, authoring numerous seminal papers in her field. Dr. Cohn was the first woman to be appointed to the board of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, where she served as editor for ten years, as well as the first woman to be elected president of the American Society of Biological Chemistry in 1978.
Among her many honors, Dr. Cohn was elected to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society, as well as being the recipient of the National Medal of Science in 1982. The citation for her work as the recipient of the National Medal of Science was "For pioneering the use of stable isotopic tracers and nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy in the study of mechanisms of enzymatic catalysis." Dr. Cohn was granted honorary doctorates from nine universities, including Penn in 1984 and the Weizmann Institute in Israel, where she was elected a member of the board of the Weizmann Institute in 1978. Her most recent honor came on October 11, 2009, when she was inducted into the National Womenís Hall of Fame.
She is survived by her three children, Nina Rossomando (C'64), Paul Primakoff, and Laura Primakoff; her grandchildren, Natasha R. Johnson (C'91), Michelle Rossomando, Anna Myles-Primakoff, Dylan Myles-Primakoff, Mira Kahn, and Gabriella Kahn (C'13); and her great-grandchildren, Olivia Johnson, Andrew Johnson, Vince Williams, and Carmela Williams. A private family memorial service will be held.
Donations may be directed to the American Committee for the Weizmann Institute of Science, 633 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10017; (212) 895-7900, where the Mildred Cohn Memorial Fund has been established.