Jerome and Isabella Karle Retire from NRL Following Six Decades of Scientific Exploration


7/21/2009 - 58-09r
Contact: Donna McKinney, (202) 767-2541


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Dr. Jerome Karle and Dr. Isabella Karle are retiring from the Naval Research Laboratory on July 31 following a combined 127 years of federal service. It has been a rich partnership in every sense of the word, both in work and in marriage. Jerome Karle joined NRL in 1944. He holds the Chair of Science as Chief Scientist of the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter. Isabella Karle joined NRL in 1946 and has maintained an active research program as a member of the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter since that time.

NRL celebrated their retirement with a ceremony held on July 21st. RADM Nevin Carr, Chief of Naval Research, and The Honorable Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy attended the ceremony, along with other distinguished guests. Secretary Mabus presented the Department of the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award to the Karles. This award is the highest DoN award granted to career civilian employees. Letters of congratulations from the Secretary of Defense, Secretary of the Navy, and the Chief of Naval Operations were also presented to the Karles.

When Jerome Karle began work at NRL, Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, gas was 21 cents a gallon, minimum wage was 30 cents per hour, and a first class postage stamp was 3 cents. In the early 1940s, NRL was experiencing a boom in growth related to the war years. Around the time the Karles arrived at NRL, the number of employees jumped from 396 in 1941 to 4400 in 1946; the number of research projects jumped from 200 in 1941 to 900 in 1946. Together, they have been witnesses to decades of tremendous scientific and technological change.

Jerome Karle, along with Herbert Hauptman, were awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1985 for devising direct methods of determining complex crystal structures by using X-ray diffraction analysis. Isabella Karle, building on this work, developed methods that led to the analysis and publication of the molecular structures of many thousands of complicated molecules annually. This methodology has enabled the characterization of potent toxins, antitoxins, heart drugs, antibiotics, anti-addictive substances, anticarcinogens, anti-malarials, and explosives and propellants.

Dr. Bhakta Rath, Associate Director of Research for Materials Science and Component Technology spoke about the significance of the Karles' careers, saying, "The departure of Jerry and Isabella from our midst at the Naval Research Laboratory marks the end of an era. Through their persistent and dedicated research they opened the doors to our understanding of the complexities of atomic arrangements in large biological and organic molecules. Their theoretical and experimental research, which is now commonly known as the direct method for solving the multi variable complex functions extracted from x-ray diffraction data has made immeasurable contribution to our understanding of the structure and function of biomolecules and consequently to the development of various pharmaceutical products. Through their continued research, they created new areas known as quantum crystallography and kernel method. Researchers, the world over can solve structures of molecules containing tens of thousands of atoms in a matter of hours, which otherwise would have taken careers to solve.

I distinctly remember the day in 1985, when the announcement reached the lab that Jerry had received the Nobel Prize in chemistry. I was in Toronto, chairing a session at an international conference when someone came and whispered to me the news. Expressing my exuberance and taking the privilege of the chairman's prerogative, I announced the news to the attending scientists and declared a fifteen minute break for celebration.

The combined length of service of Jerry and Isabella at NRL, extending over 127 years, beginning since the Manhattan project, will be long cherished and remembered as a historic event for the laboratory, the US Navy, the nation and the world."

Jerome Karle attended New York City schools and graduated from the City College of New York in 1937, the first recipient of the Caduceus Award for excellence in the Natural Sciences. He obtained an M.A. degree in Biology in 1938 at Harvard University. After working at the New York State Health Department, he attended the University of Michigan and received M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in Physical Chemistry in 1942 and 1944, respectively. Dr. Karle joined the Naval Research Laboratory in 1944 and since 1968, he has been the Chief Scientist of the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter (LSM).

Jerome Karle's research has been concerned with diffraction theory and its application to the determination of atomic arrangements in various states of aggregation, gases, liquids, amorphous solids, fibers, and macromolecules. This research has resulted in new techniques for structure determination and a broad variety of applications. His work in crystal structure analysis was recognized by the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Jerome Karle's recent research interests have concerned analytical techniques for the determination of macromolecular structure. Some recent applications have involved the use of major technical advances such as high intensity synchrotron sources. In one such application, Professor Janet Smith of Purdue University, a former postdoctoral member of NRL in LSM, and colleagues, have solved a structure containing about 15,000 nonhydrogen atoms. A most recent interest is in a developing field that he and his research colleagues call quantum crystallography. It concerns a method for combining X-ray diffraction data for crystals with quantum mechanics in order to obtain wave functions that are consistent with the X-ray data. The objective is to extend the use of X-ray diffraction beyond the determination of atomic arrangements, which it does quite well, to the determination of additional features such as charges on atoms and energies.

Jerome Karle is a Fellow of the American Physical Society, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the American Philosophical Society, has served as president of the International Union of Crystallography, and is a member of a number of other professional societies. He has been chairman of the Chemistry Section of the National Academy of Sciences. He has been awarded the following honors: Research Society of America Award in Pure Science, elected Fellow of the American Physical Society, Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Award, Chair of Science at NRL, Hillebrand Award of Washington Section of American Chemical Society, Navy Robert Dexter Conrad Award, election to National Academy of Sciences, Patterson Award of American Crystallographic Association, D. Humane Letters Honoris Causa at Georgetown University, and in 1985 the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In 1986 Dr. Karle received the Albert A. Michelson Award from the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago, Doctorate Honoris Causa from the University of Maryland, Doctorate Honoris Causa from the City University of New York, Golden Plate Award of the Academy of Achievement, Rear Admiral William S. Parsons Award of the Navy League, Townsend Harris Award from the Alumni Association of City College of New York, Secretary of Navy Award for Distinguished Achievement in Science, Presidential Rank of Distinguished Executive in the Senior Executive Service, President's Award for Distinguished Federal Civilian Service, and the National Library of Medicine Medal. His awards continued with The University of Michigan Outstanding Achievement Award, election as Member of the American Philosophical Society, Doctor of Science Honoris Causa from the University of Michigan, Order of Francisco di Miranda (First Class) received from President Carlos Andres Perez of Venezuela, first NRL Lifetime Achievement Award, Ettore Majorana-Erice "Science for Peace" Prize, University of Michigan Chemistry Alumni Excellence Award, Honorary Doctor of Science from the University of Athens, Honorary Doctor of Science from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow Poland, Fred E. Saalfeld Award for Lifetime Achievement in Science from the Office of Naval Research, inclusion in the Pentagon exhibit honoring DOD career civilian employees for contributions to the military, and the Jerome and Isabella Karle Collegiate Professorship of Chemistry established at University of Michigan.

Isabella Karle is the daughter of immigrants from Poland. After attending the public schools in Detroit, she was awarded a scholarship to the University of Michigan where she earned the B.S. Chem, M.S. and Ph.D. degrees with a specialty in physical chemistry. During World War II she devised a procedure for producing pure plutonium chloride from a mixture containing plutonium oxide for the atom bomb project. Later, she was an Instructor in Chemistry at the University of Michigan. After World War II, she joined NRL.

Isabella Karle is one of the pioneers in the area of small molecule structural biology who developed the method on which so many important concepts in peptide structure and function were corroborated. Without her pioneering contributions to this field, much of the wonderful work that followed would not have been possible.

Isabella Karle's early research concerned the structure analysis of molecules in the vapor state by electron diffraction. In the fifties, her research was directed toward crystal structure analysis. She developed practical procedures based on the theoretical work developed by her husband in the Laboratory for the Structure of Matter at NRL for the determination of phases directly from the measured intensities of x-ray reflections. These practical procedures have become adopted world-wide and have been essential to the explosive output of crystal structure determinations that are indispensable to the solution of problems in a number of scientific disciplines: chemistry, biochemistry, biophysics, mineralogy, material science, pharmaceuticals, drug design and medicinal chemistry, for example. Isabella Karle personally has applied the method to the elucidation of molecular formulae and determination of conformations of steroids, alkaloids, frog toxins, photorearrangement products caused by radiation, nanotubes and particularly peptides. This type of structural information has provided the basis for computational chemistry, conformational analyses and the prediction of folding for new substances. She has published more than 350 papers.

The work of Isabella Karle has been recognized by a number of awards and honors. Among them have been election to the National Academy of Sciences, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society. She has received the Garvan Award of the American Chemical Society, the Hillebrand Award, the WISE Lifetime Achievement Award, the Gregori Aminoff Prize from the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Bijvoet Medal from the Netherlands, Robert Dexter Conrad Award from the Office of Nava Research, and eight honorary doctorate degrees, among them one from the University of Athens (Greece). Her first award, however, was presented by the Society of Women Engineers. She has served as President of the American Crystallographic Association, on several editorial boards of journals and a number of national committees concerned with various aspects of chemistry and crystallography. In 1993, Dr. Karle was awarded the prestigious Bower Award and Prize for Achievement in Science from the Franklin Institute, and in 1995 she received the National Academy of Sciences Award in Chemical Sciences and the National Medal of Science from President Clinton. Other recognitions include her biography in "Women in Chemistry and Physics" and in "The Door and the Dream," a symposium in her honor at an American Chemical Society meeting, and honors at the New York Academy of Sciences. In 2007 she was the recipient of the highly esteemed Merrifield Award from the American Peptide Society.


The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus gives his remarks at Drs. Jerome and Isabella Karle's retirement ceremony from the Naval Research Laboratory following a combined 127 years of government service. Among their many awards and honors, Dr. Jerome Karle's work in crystal structure analysis was recognized by the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Dr. Isabella Karle was awarded the National Medal of Science from President Clinton in 1995 for her pioneering work in devising methods to determine crystal structure. (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)


The Secretary of the Navy (SECNAV) the Honorable Ray Mabus presented the Department of the Navy Distinguished Civilian Service Awards to Drs. Jerome and Isabella Karle during their retirement from the Naval Research Laboratory.The Distinguished Civilian Service Award is the highest Navy award that the SECNAV can confer on a civilian employee. (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)


Dr. Jerome Karle, left, and Dr. Isabella Karle cut their respective cakes as they retire from the Naval Research Laboratory. (U.S. Navy Photo by John F. Williams)


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