September 2, 2005

Mondy Pioneered Biochem

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Prof. Emerita Nell I. Mondy Ph.D. ’53, nutritional sciences, passed away last Thursday due to complications from surgery at the Cayuga Medical Center. She was 83. Touted as a pioneering female biochemist and regarded as an international expert on potatoes, Mondy served on Cornell’s faculty for over 50 years.

Much of Mondy’s research focused on the potato, which she once claimed was “food for the world.” Her proposal on potato marketing in 1987 prompted the formation of the Agriculture Research Service, a program which has netted millions of dollars toward studying the potato. As a result of her work in the field, Mondy was the recipient of the Elizabeth Stier Award of the Institute of Food Technologists, the Outstanding Alumni Award of the Cornell College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Centennial Achievement Award from Ouachita Baptist University. She is also honored in the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, NY.

“[Mondy] was a focused and a driven individual. She regarded research as the main focus of her life,” said Subhash Chandra Ph.D. ’81, who studied under Mondy as a graduate student. “It is good to see that she was recognized for her work.”

Mondy published her autobiography in 2001, entitled “You Never Fail Until You Stop Trying: The Story of a Pioneer Woman Chemist”, in which she described her teaching years at Cornell, her travels to over 40 countries and her experiences in between. The book details how she, as the only child of a young widow, grew up in a small town in Arkansas and moved on to getting her first degree at Ouachita Baptist and her M.A. from the University of Texas at Austin, as well as the projects she participated in at the US Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture in Nigeria.

“My purpose in writing this book was to encourage today’s young women to pursue science as a career option,” Mondy said upon its publication. “Although it may have been more difficult for women to succeed in chemistry 50 years ago, the process still remains challenging. I hope these pages will inspire others who encounter difficult challenges and obstacles in their lives to keep trying.”

Mondy’s official capacity as a researcher included the study of plant biochemistry as it related to human nutrition and food, observing the nutritive value of such potato constituents as ascorbic acid, glycoalkaloids, protein, and lipids. She has also done research studying the iron content in frozen vegetables and the effect of sulfure dioxide on living cells.

At the start of her research, Mondy was frequently the only woman chemist at meetings.

“She was an extraordinary person,” said Cutberto Garza, director of the Division of Nutritional Sciences. “She played an important role in bringing opportunities to women in the field of natural and physical sciences.”

“She was a fighter … and very brave,” Chandra said.

Mondy is also the author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications and is listed in more than two dozen reference books, such as “Who’s Who in America,” “Foremost Women in the Twentieth Century” and the “2000 Outstanding Intellectuals of 21st Century.” She is the namesake of both the Nell I. Mondy Laboratory of Human Performance in Martha van Rensselaer Hall and the Nell I. Mondy Organic Chemistry Laboratory at Ouachita Baptist University.

“She used to collect angels. She had a huge collection. It was a hobby of hers,” Chandra said. “I am sure we are missing one today. God bless her.”