Ruth Lyttle Satter

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Ruth Lyttle Satter
Ruth Lyttle Satter.jpg
Born (1923-03-08)March 8, 1923
Died August 3, 1989(1989-08-03) (aged 66)
Alma mater Barnard College
University of Connecticut
Spouse(s) Robert Satter
Children Four
Scientific career
Fields Botany, plant physiology, chronobiology
Institutions Bell Laboratories
Maxson Company
University of Connecticut
Yale University

Ruth Lyttle Satter (March 8, 1923 – August 3, 1989) was an American botanist best known for her work on circadian leaf movement.


Ruth Lyttle Satter was born March 8, 1923[1] in New York City.

Satter received a B.A. in mathematics and physics from Barnard College in 1944. After graduating, she worked at Bell Laboratories and Maxson Company until 1947 when she became a homemaker, having four children to raise. In 1964, she enrolled for graduate studies in plant physiology at the University of Connecticut, where she earned her Ph.D. in botany in 1968. Her Ph.D. thesis was on the control of flowering by red/far-red light in Sinningia species (Gloxinia).

In postdoctoral work at Yale, she studied the control of leaf movements, first reported to be observed by the French monk Jean-Jacques d'Ortous de Mairan in the 18th century, and published a series of papers that showed the involvement of K+ and Cl− flux and red and blue light in rhythmic leaf movements.ments.☃☃ Leaflets are usually horizontal (open) during daylight and vertical (closed) at night, indicative of a circadian clock in the plant. Her work demonstrated that movements are driven by ion flux in leaf motor cells, and that this movement persists regardless of light color or the endogenous rhythm.[2]

In 1980, Satter became a professor-in-residence at the University of Connecticut, where she collaborated with Richard Crain, a lipid biochemist, in discovering that the phosphatidylinositol cycle is the basic light signal transduction mechanism in the leaf motor cells.[3] She was married to Robert Satter, who was a judge in the Superior Court of Connecticut.[3]

According to the Association for Women in Science (AWIS):

Dr. Satter is best known for her work on circadian leaf movement. While busy as a researcher, teacher, mother, and wife, she also was active in the American Institute of Biological Sciences, the American Society of Plant Physiology, and AWIS. She was very much concerned that women have equal opportunities in science and, through her will, established an award for women re-entering the sciences after a break in their education to raise a family.[4]

Death and legacy[edit]

Satter died from leukemia at the age of 66 on August 3, 1989.[1][3] In 1990, the Ruth Lyttle Satter Prize in Mathematics was established in her memory, with funds donated by Joan S. Birman to honor her sister's commitment to research and to encourage women in science. It was first awarded in 1991.[5] The Ruth Satter Lectureship in Plant Biology was also established in her memory, to provide support for an annual lectureship in plant biology and to promote joint interaction between the University of Massachusetts and University of Connecticut.[3]


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