From the Annals of NIH History

Hidden Figures in Paper Chromatography

Alma Levant Hayden in the lab spraying paper with a reagent


Alma Levant Hayden (died 1967), a scientist in the then–National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, is demonstrating a technique called paper chromatography to screen for steroid substances. With paper chromatography, a drop of liquid containing a mixture of chemicals is placed on porous paper. The chemicals move at different speeds through the paper and give rise to different-colored marks. In this 1952 photo, Hayden is spraying the paper with a reagent to reveal the pattern indicating the identity of the substance. Hayden, who had a master’s degree in chemistry from Howard University (Washington, D.C.), was among the first minority women scientists working in Washington, D.C., first at NIH and later at the FDA. She was married to NIH chemist Alonzo Hayden. Paper chromatography was invented in 1943 by Archer John Porter Martin and Richard Laurence Millington Synge, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1952 for their work.


alma levant hayden spraying reagent out of a spray bottle onto vertically held sheet of paper with marks on it.