February 13, 1926 - August 08, 2012
Fay Ajzenberg-Selove was an American nuclear physicist, renown for her experiments with nuclear spectroscopy of light elements. She was a recipient of the 2007 National Medal of Science.
Fay Ajzenberg-Selove – female nuclear physicist
Fay Ajzenberg-Selove was born in Berlin, Germany, to a Jewish family from Russia. Her father, Mojzesz Ajzenberg, was a mining engineer and her mother, Olga Naiditch Ajzenberg, was a pianist and mezzo-soprano who studied at the St. Petersburg Academy of Music. In 1919, they fled the Russian Civil War and settled in Germany, where her father became a wealthy investment banker.
Their business went bankrupt during the Great Depression, so the family moved to France in 1930. Her father worked as a chemical engineer in a sugar beet factory owned by her uncle. Ajzenberg attended the Lycée Victor Duruy in Paris and Le Collège Sévigné.
In 1940, the family fled the Nazis and via a gruesome route through Spain, Portugal, then across the ocean, to the Dominican Republic, and Cuba and only afterwards - New York City, where they arrived in April 1941!
Ajzenberg graduated from Julia Richman High School in 1943. Her father encouraged her interest in engineering, so she enrolled into the University of Michigan, where she met and became friends with the - later - notorious Haitian dictator "Papa Doc".
Fay Ajzenberg graduated in 1946 with a BS in engineering, the only woman in a class of 100!
Later, she began doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, working with the nuclear physicist Hugh Richards who was studying nuclear reaction energies. She received her PhD in physics in 1952 with a dissertation titled "Energy levels of some light nuclei and their classification."
She did postdoctoral work with Thomas Lauritsen at the California Institute of Technology. Together they would publish Energy Levels of Light Nuclei, a compilation of the field's best yearly research Eventually, Ajzenberg would publish 26 of such compilations in the journal Nuclear Physics, earning the fame of the creator of "the nuclear scientists' bible."
She was hired as an assistant professor of physics at Boston University, but the dean lowered her salary 15 percent when he learned Ajzenberg was a woman, so she refused the position until the original salary was restored.
While at Boston College, she met Harvard University physicist Walter Selove and they married in December 1955. And in 1962, using the bubble chamber at the Brookhaven National Laboratory, he discovered a meson he named the fayon after her.
In the 1960s, she worked at Haverford College, where she was the first full-time female faculty member. In 1970s, Ajzenberg-Selove began teaching at the University of Pennsylvania, where she had a citation count higher than everyone in the physics department except for Nobel laureate J. Robert Schrieffer!
She filed complaints with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, when she was denied tenure without adequate explanation, and in 1973 the University of Pennsylvania was ordered to give her a professorship. She became only the second female professor in the university's School of Arts and Sciences.
McLane, Victoria (1993). "Fay Ajzenberg-Selove".
Lubkin, Gloria (2013). "Fay Ajzenberg-Selove". Physics Today 66 (6)