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222 KARAMICHAILOVA, Elissaveta Ivanova (Kara-Michailova, Elizabeth) (1897–1968) Nuclear physicist; first woman Associate Professor at Sofia University; member of the Druzhestvo na Bulgarkite s Visshe Obrazovanie (DBVO, Association of Bulgarian Women with Higher Education). Elissaveta Karamichailova was born on 22 August 1897 in Vienna, one of the three children of the Bulgarian surgeon Ivan Karamichailov (1866–1961) and Mary Slade, an English pianist born in Oxfordshire. The cultural atmosphere in the family was augmented by the presence of Ivan’s sister, Elena Karamichailova, the first Bulgarian post-impressionist painter (who studied in Germany). Elissaveta Karamichailova was also greatly influenced by her father, who was descended from an old merchant family from Shoumen and believed in national and Enlightenment ideals . He financed the education of his two sisters and three children and, instead of making a career in Austria, returned to Bulgaria to establish a private clinic, as well as founding and running a Red Cross hospital on a voluntary basis. Elissaveta thus spent her childhood in Vienna, receiving her education at home from her mother and mastering English and German. In 1917, after the family had returned to Bulgaria in 1907, she completed her six years of study at the most elite girls’ secondary school in the country (in Sofia), where—her teachers being feminist activists—she became acquainted with the Bulgarian feminist movement. Elissaveta Karamichailova subsequently enrolled at the University of her native Vienna , where she studied physics and mathematics (1917–1920). She managed to alternate between compulsory lectures and classes in philosophy, history of art and astronomy. She was good company and her broad general knowledge strongly impressed her colleagues. In 1922, Karamichailova defended a doctoral thesis in nuclear physics and began working for the Institut für Radiumforschung (Vienna Radium Institute), a significant moment in her professional and personal development. Over the following thirteen years, Karamichailova hoped that Vienna would become the leading center for nuclear research, ahead of Paris or Cambridge. With determination and dedication, she began 223 expanding her scientific field of expertise, specializing in electrical and radio engineering (at the Vienna Polytechnic), the only fields that were accessible to women. The research she carried out and published in association with her colleagues—on radioluminescence , gamma radiation and the radiation of polonium—is relevant to this day and at the time represented a giant step forward in physics. According to specialists Georgi Nadjakov and Hristo Hristov, Karamichailova and her co-author Marietta Blau were only a step away from the discovery of neutrons, but since they did not publish their results immediately, preferring to check them once more, the fame went to someone else. Karamichailova’s work at the Institut für Radiumforschung brought her into a close circle of friends, including Elizabeth Róna, Marietta Blau and Berta Karlik . These were internationally renowned researchers who socialized together, supported one another professionally and were strongly attached to each other. This atmosphere of mutual support encouraged the women physicists to seek support from international organizations in the form of scholarships, thereby enabling them to enter scientific units known to be conservative with regard to applications from women. Karamichailova (probably as a member of the Austrian branch of the IFUW) became a member of the International Federation of University Women (then under the leadership of the physician Professor Ellen Gleditsch) and applied for a scholarship . In 1935, the IFUW, together with the Yarrow and Rockefeller Foundations, granted Karamichailova a three-year scholarship to Girton women’s college in Cambridge (from which women could not graduate until 1947), where she worked in the Cavendish Laboratory run by Lord Rutherford. Karamichailova published important research on the energy of gamma rays emitted by actinium and on the ionization of gasses under pressure; she also discovered the division of nuclei under the impact of slow neutrons (1938). In 1939, towards the end of her stay in Britain, she taught at Girton College and visited colleagues in Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium and France, meeting Elizabeth Róna (among others). She rejected an invitation to work at the University of Halle in Germany. Elissaveta Karamichailova stated in her autobiography (published in Lazarova in 1995) that her main reason for coming back to Sofia was to obtain an associate professorship at Sofia University (to which position she was elected on 12 December 1939), after having sought a permanent position there for eleven years. She required security in order to finance her research, but her return to Bulgaria was also in part...


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