Oak Ridge is mourning the loss of internationally recognized researcher Dr. Liane “Lee” Branch Russell. Lee passed away on Saturday, July 20, 2019 at the age of 95.
Funeral arrangements are being planned at Martin Oak Ridge Funeral Home.
Fleeing Nazi-controlled Austria as a child, Lee eventually came to America earning her citizenship and quickly began taking an interest in the sciences. Earning her B.A. from Hunter College in New York City and her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, Lee and her husband, Bill, came to Oak Ridge National Laboratory in 1947.
Together they studied radiation-induced health effects using mice, accumulating hundreds of thousands of them, which would later become infamously known as the “Mouse House.”
Through Lee’s extensive research, she discovered radiation’s effects on developing embryos. This profound study lead to later developing X-ray health precaution guidelines for pregnant people that are still practiced today worldwide, as well as her discovery of the role of the Y chromosome, which is what makes boys boys genetically.
From this incredible breakthrough, Lee received in 1994 DOE’s Enrico Fermi Award, the agency’s highest scientific award. The citation honored Lee for “her outstanding contributions to genetics and radiation biology including her discovery of the chormosomal basis for sex determination in mammals and her contributions to our knowledge of the effects of radiation on the developing embryo and fetus.” Numerous other awards have been presented to Lee over the years.
Lee’s passion eventually drove her to environmental advocacy where she and Bill, who died in 2003, were founding members of the Tennessee Citizens for Wilderness Planning (TCWP). TCWP was instrumental in establishing the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area and obtaining National Wild and Scenic River designation for the Obed River.
In 2013, ORNL established The Liane B. Russell Distinguished Early Career Fellowship to attract diverse and promising early-career scientists whose goals align with DOE missions, in response to the many career difficulties women in science face.
Oak Ridge visitors can visit displays at the American Museum of Science and Energy and the K-25 Visitor Center & Overlook, within the Manhattan Project National Historical Park, highlighting Lee’s extraordinary work in continuing to make Oak Ridge a place for innovation and world-changing science.
The global scientific community, her friends and family, and most definitely the Secret City will always remember and value Lee’s legacy for generations to come.