Who's Who of Professional Women


Margit Edelson

Margit Nass Edelson, PhD, graduated from high school with the highest level of education possible in the 1950s. During the course of her high school career, she achieved enough college level science credits to complete her bachelor’s degree in only two years. As she was pursuing her undergraduate degree, she was inspired by one of her professors to pursue a career in the sciences and, at the same time, realized her own desire to work in education. Graduating with her Bachelor of Science, magna cum laude, followed by her Master of Arts, Dr. Edelson concluded her formal studies at Columbia University, where she achieved a Doctor of Philosophy in 1961. Two postdoctoral fellowship awards from the National Science Foundation and the American Cancer Society started her pioneering studies of mitochondrial DNA at Stockholm University.

In 1964, Dr. Edelson joined the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, where she would remain for her entire career. She also had a secondary faculty appointment as a professor of pharmacology and toxicology at the School of Veterinary Medicine. Teaching and researching at the university for over three decades, including various national consulting activities, Dr. Edelson rose to the position of professor of radiation oncology and cultivated significant expertise in mitochondrial DNA.

Dr. Edelson cites the highlight of her career to be her discovery and continued study of mitochondrial DNA, summarized in a report entitled “Mitochondrial DNA: Advances, Problems and Goals,” which was published in Science, the journal of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in 1969. The article is now available to read through JSTOR via a wide range of libraries and academic institutions. She has over 100 scientific publications of her research, including reviews and chapters in educational books. Dr. Edelson concluded her career at the University of Pennsylvania in 1999, when she was granted the title of professor emerita of radiation oncology, which she holds to this day.

Attributing much of her success to her excellent education, Dr. Edelson also notes that her professional growth was helped along by following the opportunities that presented themselves to her and keeping her mind trained and sharp through continued learning throughout her career. She has kept herself active and engaged through collaboration with scientists around the world and through ongoing affiliation with the National Institutes of Health, which included a five-year Career Development Award; the American Cancer Society; and the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology. To young and aspiring professionals, particularly women, Dr. Edelson would advise not being discouraged by the people who try to antagonize you and to continue and believe in what you are doing.

Throughout her career, Dr. Edelson made a name for herself as someone who was skilled in looking at the big picture and ensuring that every possibility was addressed. She also stood out in her field for her recognition of the importance of learning from the positive input of other scientists and students during invited lectures given at universities worldwide. In addition, she was continually motivated by her own desire to keep going as well as the encouragement she received early on from her parents and professors. Looking toward the future, she hopes to remain in good health in order to continue to contribute to her field in any way that she is able.

Above everything, Dr. Edelson hopes to leave a legacy as an accomplished woman who was able to overcome a number of hurdles in order to make a significant contribution to the scientific and medical fields. A contribution that has, notably, had a lasting impact on both general scientific knowledge and health care. In her personal life, she spent many happy years married to her late husband, Nathan, who she married in 1969. Today, Dr. Edelson spends her free time reading and researching her multiple areas of interest, painting, gardening, working and solving problems around the house, helping and communicating with worldwide friends, watching some sports in which she participated in earlier years, caring for her dogs, and supporting animal welfare.


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