Johns Hopkins School of Medicine professor Carol W. Greider accepted the Nobel Prize for medicine in Stockholm Thursday, joining just nine other women who have won the honor for medicine or physiology since the awards were first handed out in 1901.
She won for her discovery of an enzyme called telomerase, a substance that plays a crucial role in the genetic life of cells and holds promise for developing treatments to fight cancer and age-related diseases.
The triathlete and mother of two is described by friends and colleagues as a modest researcher who prefers to shun the spotlight in favor of pursuing curiosity-driven science.
Greider has acknowledged that her win is a boon for women in the sciences, where they struggle for parity. On the day of her win, she also alluded to her daily juggle: She was folding laundry when the early-morning call came from the Nobel chairman notifying her of the honor.
Her fellow winner, Elizabeth H. Blackburn, outlined the challenges for women trying to balance home and work life in the demanding sciences. She said institutions should offer women more flexible schedules.
"The career structure is very much a career structure that has worked for men," Blackburn said during a news conference Sunday in Stockholm for the winners, who are the first two women to share a single Nobel science prize. "But many women, at the stage when they have done their training, really want to think about family ... and they just are very daunted by the career structure. Not by the science, in which they are doing really well."
Greider added that she especially wants to see measures to get more women onto committees and decision-making positions.
"I think that something active needs to be done to do that because there has been many, many years where there have been women coming in at a 50 percent level, and yet the levels at the upper echelons hasn't really changed very much," she said.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.