Lina Stern: Science and fate
Lina Stern (1878-1968), an outstanding neurophysiologist and biochemist, was born in Russia and studied at the University of Geneva, Switzerland. After her graduation she did original research in biochemistry together with Frédéric Batelli. In 1918 Stern was the first woman to be awarded a professional rank at the University of Geneva. In 1921, she published her pioneering research on the hemato-encephalic barrier and continued this study in the Soviet Union to which she returned in 1925 because of her ideological convictions. In Moscow she turned to university teaching, which she combined with scientific research and public activities. In 1929, Stern founded the Institute of Physiology of the USSR Academy of Sciences, of which she was director until 1948, when it was discontinued. Under her leadership multidisciplinary groups of colleagues worked on the problems of the hemato-encephalic and histohematic barriers. The results of this work were later implemented in clinical practice and saved thousands of lives at the fronts of World War II. Among the many problems Stern and her scientific group worked on were longevity and sleep. In 1939, she became the first woman full member of the Academy of Sciences.
When World War II broke out Stern was chosen as a member of the Women Anti-Fascist Committee and the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee (JAC). The JAC was wiped out in January 1949. All members of the JAC were sentenced to death, including the 74-year-old Stern. Her verdict was later changed into a term in prison followed by a 5-year-exile. She was the only member of the JAC to survive, out of the fifteen who were arrested. After Stalin's death she was allowed to return to Moscow and to establish a laboratory to continue her research work. Until her death in 1968 Stern headed the Department of Physiology at the Biophysics Institute.
Pavia, Italy, 2006