Citation for Myriam Morgenstein Sarachik
Myriam Morgenstein Sarachik. Research scientist. Professor of Physics. Pioneer and pathbreaker.
You were born in Belgium to Orthodox Jewish parents and escaped the Nazis with them, though not before being held for a period in concentration camps. You lived as a refugee and schoolgirl in Cuba, then came to New York and attended, first, the Bronx High School of Science, and then, Barnard, as a member of the Class of 1954.
If women in physics are enormously underrepresented today, they were practically unheard of back then. Though not immune to the insecurities that evoked — you’ve said that for years you never dared ask questions in class for fear of appearing stupid — the joy of discovery and your drive to know more and more and more ultimately won out.
You took inspiration from another Barnard student, one of the tiny handful of women physics majors in all of Barnard or Columbia during your undergraduate years. “She’s just doing it!” you said about her decision to pursue a PhD. “If she can do it, why can’t I?”
By the time you did it too, earning your Ph.D. from Columbia, you were still being told by male colleagues and potential employers to limit your ambitions. But after briefly putting your career on hold to raise a baby, you had long had enough. You wouldn’t just prove them all wrong by becoming a working physicist and scholar. You would change the field forever.
You threw every obstacle aside until you were finally offered a job at IBM, then at Bell Labs. Once there, you wasted no time diving into research that would lead to a groundbreaking discovery. Routinely measuring how changing temperatures affected electrical resistance, you noticed something your colleagues didn’t: that, in the presence of magnetized iron, resistance increased as temperatures fell — an observation seemingly at odds with the basic laws of physics.
The discovery confirmed what would become a central tenet concerning the behavior of electrons — the Kondo effect, named not for you, the one who proved it, but for the male theorist with the public platform to explain it.
Not only were you denied recognition — you were denied job renewal at Bell. But you refused to give up your dreams, and even turned down the rare jobs you were later offered because they didn’t come with the title or pay a man would receive.
Finally, you accepted a position as an assistant professor at the City College of New York of the City University of New York. You shot through the ranks, eventually becoming a Distinguished Professor, the highest honor CCNY bestows on its faculty. Along the way, you established a low-temperature laboratory and kept proving the seemingly unprovable, making earth-shattering discoveries in quantum mechanics, metallic conduction, and more.
You have served as an adviser to many top-level government agencies, universities, and science organizations. And as the member of several human rights committees, you have helped preserve the rights of women and scientists here and around the world.
For all this and more, you have won countless awards, including the 2020 Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research, the American Physical Society’s highest honor. Myriam Sarachik, today, it’s our turn to join the better late than never club by proudly, and with enormous humility and appreciation, presenting you with a 2021 Barnard Medal of Distinction.