Do you recognize this woman?
Probably not. She doesn't look like a superhero but I hope someone will read this tiny diary entry and be inspired, as I was when I came across her obituary in the New York Times today.
Her name is Louise Reiss and she was a doctor who was instrumental in
conducting research (the "Baby Tooth Survey, 1959~1970) that provided
evidence that atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons increased harmful
radioactivity in people's bodies. She established this by collecting and
analyzing the amount of Strontium-90 in childrens' decidous teeth
(a.k.a. "baby teeth"):
The teeth were sent to the laboratory at Washington University, which tested them for strontium 90, one of more than 100 chemicals created in nuclear explosions and reactors. Strontium 90 is chemically similar to calcium and, when ingested in food and water, attaches to bones and teeth. It is radioactive and known to cause cancer.
The study ultimately found that children born in St. Louis in 1963 had 50 times as much strontium 90 in their teeth as children born in 1950 — before most of the atomic tests. Its initial findings were published in the journal Science in 1961 and came to the attention of President John F. Kennedy as he negotiated with the Soviet Union for a ban on atmospheric nuclear testing.
From 1945 to 1963, the United States tested 206 nuclear weapons in the atmosphere — 100 in Nevada and 106 in the South Pacific — while the Soviet Union conducted 216 such tests. Fallout was swept away by prevailing winds and returned through precipitation, some of it falling on farms and dairies.
In June 1963, Dr. Reiss’s husband presented the findings in testimony before a Senate committee in support of a treaty. Two months later, the Partial Test Ban Treaty between the United States, the Soviet Union and Britain was signed.
Dr. Reiss was proud that the project achieved its aims through science rather than politics. "I continue to be moved by the knowledge that a group of organized people can effectively pressure government if they come up with data instead of rhetoric," she wrote in a letter to a colleague in the study in 1996. (from the NYT obituary)
I also found this photo of Dr. Reiss as a young, brand-new doctor in 1945. Do you think she knew that in just a few short years she would be engaged in doing work that would help change human history in such a positive way?
Can you imagine how radically different this world would be if all of us nobodies were to live our lives with the intention to change history?Take care,