KEYWORDS: Myriam P. Sarachik, physics, City College New York, Buckley Prize.
SHE THOUGHT IT
Myriam P. Sarachik is an experimental condensed matter physicist and distinguished professor of Physics at The City College of New York. In 2005 she received the Oliver E. Buckley Condensed Matter Prize and she is a former president of the American Physical Society. She has been active in different movements concerning human rights and is a member or board member of numerous committees involved with the rights of scientists. One of them is the Solid State Sciences Committee of the Norwegian Refugee Council, which is an independent humanitarian organisation that helps people who are forced to flee. Since 1994 she is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, which is considered one of the highest honors that a scientist can receive. Myriam is well known for her research in a variety of areas: superconductivity, disordered metallic alloys, metal-insulator transitions in doped semiconductors, hopping transport in solids, properties of strongly interacting electrons in two dimensions, and spin dynamics in molecular magnets. Several experiments that she made served as a great contribution to understanding condensed matter properties at low temperature. In other words, she looks at the electrical and magnetic properties of solids (semiconductors, crystals of various kinds) and does measurements at very low temperatures. In her laboratory she observes with her team how electrons move through the solids in response to potential differences and temperature variations as well as interactions between the electrons.
Myriam Sarachik (née Morgenstein) was born in 1933 in Antwerp, Belgium to an Orthodox Jewish family. When she was six years old the Second World War started and her family had to leave the country. First they tried to walk to Calais but unfortunately had to return. Afterwards they stayed in several camps before they could finally managed to get to Cuba, where she stayed from an age of eight until thirteen and a half years³ (p. 170). By that time she was fluent in Spanish and French and she has retained her language knowledge to the old age. “I remember my very early years as moderately boring and depressing. My life changed on the day I entered school. It opened an entirely new and exciting world for me.”⁴
Her family and the community she lived in were quite traditional, thus women were rather expected to raise and care for children, than to have career. At that time, “if a woman worked outside the home, it was a sign that her husband was an inadequate provider.”⁴ As a child, Myriam was interested in many different subjects as languages, anatomy, geography and grammar. Physics was very difficult for her but her father respected and admired it very highly.⁴ This might be one of the reasons why she persisted and decided to stay in the field of intellectual work rather than thinking about family and marriage at first place.
Myriam Sarachik attended the Bronx High School of Science and earned a bachelor degree in 1954 at Barnard College in New York City. She attended classes at Columbia University, across the street, because girls did not take physics and math courses at that time.¹
She met Philip Sarachik in the physics laboratory and they got married after their graduation.³ (p. 170) Her husband’s decision to continue his studies and obtain a PhD influenced her decision to do so too. There were many challenges waiting for her, especially, because only very few women became PhD candidates in physics in those days.⁴
Her graduate advisor explicitly told her one time that if only she was a man, he would know what to tell her and how to advice her career and PhD decision.
After working for a year at the IBM Watson Laboratories at Columbia University, she returned to graduate school in 1957 to earn a Master in Science.² Three years after she received her PhD degree at Columbia University with a thesis on superconductors. From 1960 to 1961 she was a research associate at the International Business Machines.
After earning the PhD, she got a child and stayed at home for few months. She recalls that a few months of being a home stayed mother was more than enough, thus she contacted a Nobel Prize recipient Polykarp Kusch who was on the faculty at Columbia and asked him for advice about her future career. Having difficulties finding her first position was, as she recalls it, a terrible time for Myriam. Firstly, he was trying to persuade her that she did not really wanted a full-time job, but after a long discussion and insisting, he said that she has all the rights to get an opportunity and the next day she had an offer.¹ She hired help to care for the baby right after.³ (p. 171) Myriam has been named assistant professor at City College which is a part of the City University of New York (CUNY), her research mainly centres on fundamental questions in physics.³ (p. 171) Specifically, her projects concern the movements of electrons at low temperature, metal-insulator transitions, metallic behavior in two dimensions, and the molecular magnets.
In 2003 Myriam became a president of American Physical Society and two years later won the L’oreal Unesco Award for Women in Science.
Since she has arrived to the United States, she is in love with New York and physics. As she states, “one of the most exhilarating aspects of being a physicist (or a mathematician, chemist, biologist,…) is that one continues to learn, stretch and expand.”⁴ Myriam is a notable researcher and professor, and one of the reasons is definitely her sense for other people and joy of accepting challenges in career and in everyday life.
She believes, as she explains in the interview with Horowitz, that controversy over women in science reminds people that the subliminal attitudes have not disappeared, and it has put it in the middle of the table front and center for discussion. In her opinion this might be a good thing, because we need attention and keep working on it.¹ “In order for our nation to maintain its technological leadership we must utilize the talents of women and other underrepresented groups.”²
In 2008, she was elected to the governing council of the National Academy of Sciences, where she contributed to better politics concerning women in science and human rights.
Myriam shared the Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics award with two other renowned physicists, Gabriel Aeppli of the University College-London, and David Awschalom of the University of California-Santa Barbara. Myriam worked with Jonathan Friedman and others graduate students on the research which led to their discovery of the reversal of the magnetism of molecular magnets by a quantum mechanical process, in 1995. She discovered the so called ‘tunneling’ of a large magnetic moment through the observation of steps in the magnetization curve of a molecular nanomagnet.⁴
While at postdoc at Bells Labs, she managed to measure the experiment that solved some mystery from 1930’s, about one-to-one correspondence between the presence of a localized moment and the occurrence of a minimum in the resistance versus temperature in certain alloys. Afterwards, Jun Konco performed her calculation and demonstrated that the minimum is indeed due to a local moment.⁴
Moreover, she worked together with Sergey Kravchenko trying to prove that an unexpected metallic state can exist in two dimensions.⁴
SHE SAID IT
“A woman has to be tougher and more tenacious than a man. This was certainly true when I started and I believe it still is true. Today the possibilities are equal for men and women; what women have to deal with is peoples inadvertent biases (including those of women themselves) which have not changed that much.”
Hargittai, Magdolna, (2015), Women Scientists: Reflection, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries, New York, Oxford University Press. (page 173).
“There were men who thought that I must be better than men, otherwise I would have not been able to stay in the field. And there were men who thought that I was clearly not as good as a men, because after all I was a woman. The truth of the matter is that those of us who stuck it out and stayed in the field were neither better, nor worse, we were just more tenacious. That’s what it took.”
Horowitz, D. Frances (host) (April 28,2005), “Women to Women: Dr. Myriam P. Sarachik, Distinguished Professor of Physics, City College/CUNY”, Myriam P. Sarachik, CUNY TV
“My family and my community were quite traditional. Women were not expected to work outside the home. Women were responsible for raising and caring for children, which is certainly very hard work. But they did not embark on their own career. If a woman worked outside the home, it was a sign that her husband was an inadequate provider.”
Sarachik, P. Myriam, (2004), “Why Physics”, in One hundred reasons to be a scientist, The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
1994: became a member of the National Academy of Sciences;
1995: NYC Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Mathematical, Physical and Engineering Sciences;
1995: became a Distinguished Professor at the City College of NY;
2003: served as President of the American Physical Society;
2004: Sloan Public Service Award from the Fund for the City of New York;
2005: Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics;
2005: L’Oréal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science for North America;
2006: An honorary Doctor of Science degree by Amherst College;
2008 – 2011: Elected to the governing council of the National Academy of Sciences, Member.
- Horowitz, D. Frances (host) (April 28,2005), “Women to Women: Dr. Myriam P. Sarachik, Distinguished Professor of Physics, City College/CUNY”, Myriam P. Sarachik, CUNY TV, <http://www.cuny.tv/show/womentowomen/PR1006817> (last accessed 16 Jan. 2018)
- “Myriam P. Sarachik, Distinguished Professor of Physics” (15 Jan. 2018), The City College of New York, The city University of New York, <http://www.sci.ccny.cuny.edu/~sarachik/index.html> (last accessed 16 Jan. 2018)
- Hargittai, Magdolna, (2015), Women Scientists: Reflection, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries, New York, Oxford University Press.
- Sarachik, P. Myriam, (2004), “Why Physics?”, in One hundred reasons to be a scientist, The Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics (ICTP), Trieste, Italy, <http://users.ictp.it/~pub_off/books/100_reasons.pdf> (last accessed 22 Jan. 2018).
- Hargittai, István / Magdolna Hargittai, (2017), New York Scientific: A Culture of Inquiry, Knowledge, and Learning, New York, Oxford University Press.