1879 - 1968


Born in Norway, Ellen Gleditsch was a pioneer of radiochemistry, a networking master, and an activist for women in science.

As a young girl, Ellen Gleditsch inherited interest on natural sciences from her father, and at the age of 18 years old, encouraged from her parents to become independent, Gleditsch started an apprenticeship in pharmacy. During her time working as a pharmacist, Gleditsch taught pharmacy students, and with 23 years old she continued her education in chemistry, as a lab assistant. Later, she moved to Paris and grew interest in radioactivity.

Never afraid of networking and pursuing her dreams, she made her way into Marie Curie’s lab, where she worked for a few years; her main task being the purification of radium by fractional crystallisations.

In 1912, Gleditsh received a grant to become a fellow at the University of Oslo, where she led the first radioactivity research group. However, after a time in Oslo, Gleditsh missed the benefits of being part of a radioactive research community, thus, she looked for another experience abroad. She received a scholarship to study in US and, despite the initial rejection from the US universities, she managed to continued her research on radium in Yale University.

Throughout her life, Gleditsch got in touch with many women working in radioactivity. For example, she approached Lise Meitner saying: “I do wish to make your acquaintance; we have radioactivity in common.”

Gleditsh was a strong supporter of women in science. She promoted scholarships for women, co-founded the Norwegian Women Academics' Association, and led the International Federation of University Women.

Written by: Enriqueta Vallejo-Yagüe.