If you have ever taken a biochemistry class, you’ve probably heard of the Michaelis-Menten equation, co-discovered by this week’s WiSE Wednesday honoree, Maud Menten. Enzymes are a special type of protein that speed up chemical reactions, and the Michaelis-Menten equation helps describe the rate at which these reactions occur. Maud published this formula with Leonor Michaelis in 1913, and it is still in wide use; as a biochemist, I know it well. I have also benefitted from other contributions of hers, including the use of electrophoresis to separate proteins by size and charge.
Born in Canada in 1879, Maud became one of that country’s first female medical doctors, but there were limited opportunities in Canada for a woman to pursue a research career, so she moved to the US, where she worked at the Rockefeller Institute, researching the effects of radium on tumors, before emigrating to Germany to work with Michaelis. After her groundbreaking work there, she moved back to the US to obtain a PhD at the University of Chicago and went on to work as a professor and pathologist at the University of Pittsburgh and a research fellow at the British Columbia Medical Research Institute. Menten also had a full life outside of the lab – in addition being a brilliant biochemist and histologist, she was also a skilled musician and artist and she spoke 6 languages! Menten passed away in 1960, but her name will forever be synonymous with enzyme kinetics.