A matter of choices : memoirs of a female physicist


A matter of choices : memoirs of a female physicist

Fay Ajzenberg-Selove

(Lives of women in science)

Rutgers University Press, c1994

  • : pbk.

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Includes bibliographical references (p. [227]-229) and index



When Fay Ajzenberg-Selove became a nuclear physicist, the number of women in the field could be counted on one hand. In this engaging memoir, Fay Ajzenberg-Selove writes candidly about her difficult journey to international recognition in physics. She is frank about the ways being a woman has made a difference in her opportunities and choices as a scientist--and how, by being a woman, she has made a difference in the world of physics. Ajzenberg-Selove came to America at the age of 15 after narrowly escaping the Nazi takeover of France. She had planned to become an engineer like her father, but switched to physics after she was told the only engineering jobs open to women were in drafting: Marie Curie's example proved to her that women could do physics. Her first attempt at graduate work at Columbia University was a disaster, but she was sturck with the intellectual beauty of the field. After taking a Ph.D. in physics at University of Wisconsin, she did post-doctoral work with Thomas Lauritsen at the California Institute of Technology, where she began writing the first of a series of major review papers on the nuclear spectroscopy of the light nuclei, a subject of fundamental importance to nuclear physics, astrophysics, and applied physics. She continued this work and experimental research for thirty-eight years while teaching at Boston University, Haverford College, and the University of Pennsylvania. During her early career, Ajzenberg-Selove was shielded by her male mentors from experiencing much of the discrimination directed against women in science. Her simultaneous battles to become a tenured professor and to overcome breast cancer opened her eyes and confirmed her as a feminist. The lay reader and the scientist alike will be fascinated by Ajzenberg-Selove's clear portrayal of her interlinked lives as physicist, teacher, wife of particle physicist, Walter Selove, and a woman who relishes both competition and friendship in a male-dominated field. An invaluable book for anyone contemplating a career in science.

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