Marie Maynard Daly was an American chemist who pioneered groundbreaking research on topics including digestion, the organization of the cell nucleus, and the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries.
Born in Queens in 1921, Marie loved to read about science while growing up, and was fascinated by popular science book The Microbe Hunters. Her father in particular passed on his love of chemistry to Marie – he had emigrated from the West Indies to study the subject at Cornell, but was sadly forced to drop out due to a lack of funds. Nevertheless, he encouraged his daughter towards an education in the sciences, and it wasn’t long before she graduated magna cum laude from Queens College with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.
Marie supported herself through a master’s by working part time as a laboratory assistant, and eventually took up a doctoral degree at Columbia University. It was here that she worked under the direction of Mary Caldwell, fellow chemist and the first female assistant professor at Columbia. Marie specialized in how compounds produced in the human body affect digestion, and in 1947 became the first African American woman to be awarded a PhD in chemistry.
After completing her doctoral degree, Marie secured a grant from the American Cancer Society to support her postdoctoral research. With molecular biologist Alfred Mirsky, she spent seven years determining the composition and metabolism of components within the cell nucleus. She continued afterwards to investigate the causes of heart attacks, and in doing so pioneered the discovery of the relationship between high cholesterol and clogged arteries, with lasting global implications for public health.
Marie soon became a professor at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where she remained studying arteries and the effects of cigarette smoking on the lungs until her retirement in 1986. She remained a strong advocate of science and medicine education for minority students, and established a scholarship fund for black students at Queens College in her father’s memory.