Ida Stephens Owens, one of first African Americans to earn a Ph.D. at Duke University and an internationally recognized researcher on the genetics of human diseases, died on February 24. She was 80 years old.
Born in 1939, Owens grew up in Whiteville, North Carolina. She earned her bachelor’s degree in biology from what is now North Carolina Central University in 1961. Owens entered Duke’s physiology Ph.D. program in fall 1962. She was among the first three African Americans to enroll in the Graduate School. In 1967, she became one of the first two African Americans — and the first Black woman — to receive a Ph.D. from Duke.
Dr. Owens completed her postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). She then established a research program at the NIH that became internationally recognized for its investigation into the genetics of human diseases. Dr. Owens was the first scientist to determine genetic defects in children with Crigler-Najjar diseases, a rare disorder often causing brain damage in infants.
Dr. Owens later served as the head of the Section on Genetic Disorders of Drug Metabolism in the Program on Developmental Endocrinology and Genetics at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.