Early life and education
Karle was born in New York City, on June 18, 1918, the son of Sadie Helen (Kun) and Louis Karfunkle. He was born into a Jewish family with a strong interest in the arts. He had played piano as a youth and had participated in a number of competitions, but he was far more interested in science. He attended Abraham Lincoln High School in Brooklyn, and would later join Arthur Kornberg (awarded the Nobel in Medicine in 1959) and Paul Berg (a winner in Chemistry in 1980), as graduates of the school to win Nobel Prizes. As a youth, Karle enjoyed handball, ice skating, and swimming in the nearby Atlantic Ocean.
He started college at the age of 15 and received his bachelor's degree from the City College of New York in 1937, where he took additional courses in biology, chemistry and math in addition to the required curriculum there. He earned a master's degree from Harvard University in 1938, having majored in biology.
As part of a plan to accumulate enough money to pay for further graduate studies, Karle took a position in Albany, New York with the New York State Department of Health, where he developed a method to measure dissolved fluoride levels, a technique that would become a standard for water fluoridation.
He enrolled at the University of Michigan in 1940 and met his future wife, Isabella Lugoski, who was sitting at an adjoining desk during his first course in physical chemistry. The two married in 1942. They were both supervised in their Ph.D. studies by physical chemist Lawrence Brockway. Though Karle completed his studies in 1943, he was awarded his Ph.D. the following year.
Jerome Karle was a former president of both the American Crystallographic Association (ACA) (1972) and the IUCr (1981-1984), as well as a co-recipient of the 1985 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his work on direct methods. Among the many additional honors he received for his work, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and the American Philosophical Society in 1990.