Early life and education
Sylvy was born Sylvia Ruth Levy in 1917 in Rochester, New York. She was the eldest of three children to parents who were Jewish refugees from Latvia and Belarus with no formal education who had worked in factories their entire lives. After high school, Sylvy enrolled in the University of Rochester, stating on her application that English and American history were her favorite subjects, while listing chemistry and general science as her least favorites. Her attitude towards science soon changed - she became enamored to the point where she commuted from the College for Women's campus to the River Campus - the College for Men - to take advanced biology and chemistry courses that were only offered there. She was one of the few female students to do so.
She earned an undergraduate degree in biochemistry in 1938, then went on to earn a Masters of Science in biochemistry in 1940, also from the University of Rochester. She carried out her graduate research at the university's School of Medicine and Dentistry under Walter Bloor, who specialized in lipids. Her work during this time focused on lipid metabolism and characterizing lipids in tumors. While at the University of Rochester, she served as editor of the campus newsletter, The Tower Times. It was also here that she met her future husband and research partner, Arthur Kornberg, who was a medical school student at the time.