Roger Arliner Young

Indirect Effects of Radiation on Sea Urchin Eggs

contributed by Zachary Cline, Hadyn Dixon, Rayanna Higley, Christopher Fluck, and Samantha Reeder 


Animals, Aquatic, Cellular biology, Experimental, Fundamental research, Historical figure, Lab, Marine, Medicine, North America, Organismal biology, Person of Color, Race/ethnicity, Societal Relevance, Woman


View and download in google slides here

Note: click the gear symbol or see below for notes that accompany the presentation

Other Resources

L. V. Heilbrunn and R. A. Young. 1935. Indirect effects of radiation on sea urchin eggs. The Biological Bulletin 69(2): 330-341. link

Presentation Notes

Researcher’s Background

Born in Virginia in 1899, Roger Arliner Young was the first African American woman to graduate with a Ph.D. in Zoology. With many bumps in the road, she originally majored in music until she met her mentor Ernest Everett Just, who helped her navigate her struggles in achieving good grades and taking care of her mother. 

Biography in brief

She was born in Clifton Forge, Virginia in 1899, but later moved and grew up in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania. She came from a poor family and spent most of her time caring for her mother, which caused her grades to appear lackluster. ​She originally enrolled in college to study music, but after taking a science class under Ernest Everett Just, changed to a zoology major. ​Young lived through both world wars, the Great Depression, and an overall difficult time period for women of color.​

Axes of identity & underrepresentation

Yes – while she participated in many studies, little to no credit was given credit to her, instead the credit was given to the men she worked with, however she was noted as a contributor. 

Research Overview

Take home message of study

Roger Arliner Young’s research focused on how cells were affected when exposed to radiation. She focused on the impact of radiation on development time in urchin eggs and zygotes. This study helped with future studies focused towards cancer treatments and how the cells change directly within them or indirectly from the radiation.

Study system

View of green sea urchin eggs that are healthy (left side) or exposed to radiation (right side). Young’s research was conducted mostly at Woods Hole Marine Biology Laboratory.

Key Research Points

Key figure

This table from Heilbrunn and Young (1935) shows results from twelve different experiments studying the impact of radiation on sea urchin egg development. In these experiments, the researchers subjected sea urchin eggs to radiation, inseminated the eggs, and then determined the amount of time elapsed between insemination to when 50% of the eggs began to show cleavage planes (“cleavage time”), which indicates that the cells are beginning to replicate. She found that the delay in cleavage time was greatest when eggs were in the presence of ovarian tissue. Their paper summarizes the findings as follows: “When sea urchin eggs are exposed to roentgen rays in the presence of ovarian tissue, the effect of the radiation is more pronounced than when the eggs alone are irradiated.”

Societal Relevance

Roger Arliner Young provided a great example of persevering through racism and misogyny. Throughout her research she found vital functions of organisms and helped advance cancer research. 

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