Can You Guess That Grad?

What chemist went from counting money for her family to having a security detail on a government project?
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Born Dec. 2, 1921, Isabella Karle, ’41, MSCHE’42, PhD’44, HSCD’76, was the daughter of Polish immigrants who settled in Michigan. She put her counting ability to use early as the “accountant” for her mother’s restaurant before even entering elementary school.

Inspired by a female high school chemistry teacher, Isabella attended Wayne State University for one semester before earning a scholarship to U-M. Here, she met fellow student and future Nobel Prize winner Jerome Karle, MSCHE’42, PhD’44, HSCD’90, and the two wed in 1942. Immediately after completing school, they kicked off a lifetime of collaboration by joining each other to work on the Manhattan Project at the University of Chicago’s “Met Lab.” By 1946, both began long careers with the Navy Research Laboratory.

Isabella Karle’s crystallography work has contributed to deeper understanding of molecular structure. Her honors include fellowship in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the U.S. Navy’s Superior Civilian Service Award, and the National Medal of Science.

For a list of notable U-M grads, visit

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