Berta Karlik was Austria’s first female university professor (from 1956) and the first woman to be awarded the Wilhelm Exner Medal. She studied physics and mathematics at the University of Vienna from 1923 and received her doctorate with honors in 1928. She then went to Paris and London for a one-year study visit. In London she worked with Ernst Rutherford (Exner Medal 1936), among others. She then returned to Vienna to the Institute for Radium Research, where she habilitated in 1936 with her thesis “The Limits of Detectability of the Heavy Noble Gases in Helium.”
During World War II, she worked together with Traude Cless-Bernert and proved the existence of element 85 in nature. Thus she closed the last gap in the periodic system. In 1947 Karlik became head of the Radium Institute and in 1954 was the first woman to be elected a “corresponding member” of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Austria. In 1973, one year before her retirement, she became the first woman to become a full member.