Minnie (Heller) Steinberg was a junior biologist in the Health Division of the University of Chicago’s Metallurgical Laboratory (“Met Lab”) during the Manhattan Project.
She was recruited to join the Met Lab by one of her professors at the University of Chicago, William Bloom, who was studying the effects of radiation on cells for the Manhattan Project. Her son Maynerd Steinberg told the Chicago Sun-Times that she met Enrico Fermi while she was working at the lab. As a junior biologist, she studied the effects of radiation exposure on laboratory animals.
Steinberg strictly adhered to the Project’s emphasis on secrecy. According to the Sun-Times, she once responded to a curious and chatty janitor’s inquiry about what she was doing by saying, ‘what are you doing?’ When speaking with her family, she only provided generalities about her work.
During her security vetting for the Manhattan Project, Heller ran into trouble when federal agents discovered she had once signed a Communist Party petition. The investigation did not find anything of significance against Heller. Apparently, she had signed the document because ‘she thought it was a social group.’
Minnie Heller was born in Stanislawow, Poland. In 1929, she moved with her mother and brother to the United States, where they reunited with her father who had been working in Chicago. They had been apart for about six years.
Steinberg graduated from Hyde Park High School and received her associate’s degree from Wilson Junior College. After graduating from junior college, she began working at Mount Sinai Hospital. Finding the microscope work tedious, however, she decided to enroll at the University of Chicago to study anatomy.
In 1951, she married Polish immigrant Dr. Menahem Steinberg. The couple’s Chicago apartment building doubled as her husband’s practice. She helped her husband by serving as his husband’s receptionist, X-ray technician and lab worker, as well as, assisting in minor surgeries.
At the age of ninety-seven, Minnie (Heller) Steinberg passed away on June 13, 2017 in Evanston, Illinois.
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