Rose Frisch

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Rose Epstein Frisch
Born(1918-07-07)July 7, 1918
DiedJanuary 30, 2015(2015-01-30) (aged 96)
ResidenceCambridge, Massachusetts, USA
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materSmith College - BA, 1939
Known fordiscovery of leptin; work in infertility, specifically her discovery that low body fat was a contributing factor to infertility
Spouse(s)David H. Frisch, PhD, an American physicist who helped develop the atom bomb in World War II[1]
ChildrenRuth Frisch Dealy; Henry Jonathan Frisch, a professor of physics at the University of Chicago;[2]
AwardsGuggenheim Fellowship – 1975–1976[3]

Sigma Xi national lecturer – 1988–1990[4] Fellow of the Bunting Institute – 1993–1994[4]
Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences[4]
Rally Day Medal for Medical Research and Reproductive Health (awarded by Smith College)[4]

Professor Emeritus Award of Merit, Harvard School of Public Health[4]
Scientific career
FieldsWomen's health, women's biology, leptin, obesity, fat, infertility, public health, population health, biology
InstitutionsManhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, NM; Harvard School of Public Health

Rose Epstein Frisch (July 7, 1918 – January 30, 2015) was a pioneering American scientist in fertility and human development whose work was instrumental in the discovery of leptin.[5][6][7] She is mainly known for her work in infertility; specifically the discovery that low body fat was a contributing factor to infertility.[8]

Early life and education[edit]

She was born Rose Epstein in 1918, in the Bronx, to Russian immigrants Louis and Stella Epstein. Frisch attended Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she received a Bachelor of Arts in 1939. She earned her master's degree in zoology the following year at Columbia University, and her Ph.D. in genetics from the University of Wisconsin in 1943.[4] She met her husband, David H. Frisch, while she was at Smith and he was at Princeton.[6] The two of hem worked on the atomic bomb project at Los Alamos National Laboratory during the second World War.[9]


Focusing on the role of adipose tissue (fat) in fertility, Frisch discovered that low body fat (under 17%) could cause infertility, late menarche, and oligomenorrhea. This discovery was published in the journal Science in 1974.[10] She also discovered that athletes were at lower risk of breast cancer.[8]

Frisch began her research career as a doctoral student at the University of Wisconsin, where she worked with Drosophila melanogaster. After her doctorate, she became a human computer for the Manhattan Project.[8] Once her children were older, she took a research position at the Harvard Center for Population and Development Studies in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[6][7] Frisch remained at Harvard for the rest of her career, studying swimmers, dancers, and other athletes to learn how body fat affects fertility and the propensity for diseases such as breast cancer.[7]

Until she passed, she was involved with the Cambridge-based Center for Population and Development Studies of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.[11]


Frisch was widely respected by athletic women, who were often able to achieve a pregnancy in part by applying knowledge gathered from her research.[8]

Honors and awards[edit]

Selected publications[edit]

  • Frisch RE, McArthur JW (1974). "Menstrual cycles: fatness as a determinant of minimum weight for height necessary for their maintenance or onset". Science. 185 (4155): 949–51. doi:10.1126/science.185.4155.949. PMID 4469672.
  • Frisch RE, Wyshak G, Albright NL, Albright TE, Schiff I, Jones KP, Witschi J, Shiang E, Koff E, Marguglio M (1985). "Lower prevalence of breast cancer and cancers of the reproductive system among former college athletes compared to non-athletes". Br. J. Cancer. 52 (6): 885–91. doi:10.1038/bjc.1985.273. PMC 1977263. PMID 4074640.
  • Frisch, Rose E. (2004). Female fertility and the body fat connection (Paperback ed.). Chicago, Ill.: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 9780226265469.
  • Frisch, Rose E. Plants that Feed the World. (1966). Van Nostrand; First Edition (1966). ASIN: B0000CNBFC - children’s book on nutrition
  • Frisch, Rose E. (Ed.). Adipose Tissue and Reproduction (March 1990). S Karger Publishers. ISBN 978-3805550666.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Weisskopf, Victor; Low, Francis; Osborne, Louis (July 1992). "Obituary: David H. Frisch". Physics Today. 45 (7): 80–81. Bibcode:1992PhT....45g..80W. doi:10.1063/1.2809748. Archived from the original on 4 October 2013.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ "C.V. — Henry Jonathan Frisch" (PDF). University of Chicago. January 22, 2017.
  3. ^ a b "1975 Fellows". Guggenheim Foundation. Archived from the original on 12 February 2015.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Rose E. Frisch". Harvard University. 2015.
  5. ^ Female Fertility and the Body Fat Connection, book for the non-scientist describing her detective work leading to the discovery of leptin
  6. ^ a b c "In memoriam: Rose Epstein Frisch, expert in women's fertility". Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. February 13, 2015. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Weinstock, Maia. "Gone in 2015: Commemorating 10 Outstanding Women in Science". Scientific American Blog Network. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  8. ^ a b c d Belluck, Pam (February 11, 2015). "Rose E. Frisch, Scientist Who Linked Body Fat to Fertility, Dies at 96". New York Times.
  9. ^ "Rose Epstein Frisch, A Scientist Who Studied Fertility, Has Died | JSTOR Daily". JSTOR Daily. February 13, 2015. Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  10. ^ "Dr. Rose Frisch, 96, of Cambridge; studied body fat's link to fertility and cancer - The Boston Globe". Retrieved October 5, 2018.
  11. ^ Small, K. R., Rose Frisch, 1918-2015, posted February 12, 2015, accessed February 18, 2015