Friday, April 14, 2017

Astrid Løken - fearless scientist who spied on the Nazi army

SRPS Women in STEM: Astrid Løken
(April 14, 1911 – January, 19 2008)

Most of the people who worked with Astrid Løken never suspected she was a high ranking member of the Norwegian resistance movement during World War II. They only knew of her passion about bumblebees and her dedication to her research.

Shortly after the Nazi forces invaded Norway in 1940, the resistance force known as XU began recruiting researchers in natural science, realizing their field work would give excellent cover for their spy work. Known as "Eva," Astrid applied to the Nazi authority for permission to study bumblebees near otherwise restricted military areas. Because they assumed she was simply a scientist watching insects, she was given free range, and routinely took photos of roads, bridges and other important structures, which she then developed back at the university where she was studying.

She developed her photos, as well as those of other scientist-spies, in the middle of the night because the university janitor was a Nazi loyalist. Then she ventured out via bicycle to her drop location or to the secret XU headquarters, under black-out conditions, risking capture at every turn.

She knew what she was doing was deadly serious, and she was prepared for the worst. She carried a cyanide capsule with her, and kept a gun and other weapons in her bedroom, in case she was discovered. Even so, on December 16, 1943, she was nearly captured by the Gestapo, although she managed to escape unharmed.

After war, she was exhausted from the stress and strain of spy work and was hospitalized. But eventually she recovered and spent the next few years studying in the United States before returning to Norway to work as a curator for the Bergen Museum while also earning her Ph.D.

[Photos, from top left: Astrid with fellow scientist-spies Edvard K. Barth and Otto Øgrim, resting after a difficult meeting; Astrid at her microscope; Astrid showing off her specimens]

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