Pioneering Through Personal Tragedy

Myriam Morgenstein Sarachik was born in Belgium to an Orthodox Jewish family. When she was seven, her family fled from the Nazi threat. They were captured but later escaped. They eventually went to Cuba and then New York City.

Myriam was a pioneer in her education becoming one of the first women to study physics. She completed a Ph.D. at the age of 27. She decided to become a full-time mom. When being a stay-at-home mother became an intellectual struggle, she decided to return to work. She was discouraged from finding a job by all those she talked to. She eventually got a job as a part-time teacher. Her intellectual ability led her to become a full professor in a short period of time.

Early in her teaching career, Myriam’s daughter was kidnapped and eventually killed by the nanny. Myriam eventually withdrew from her profession for a decade due to grief from the loss of her daughter.

When Myriam returned to work, she made pioneering discoveries in the physics of materials. For years, her work was little recognized. The few job offers she received were at lower pay than men. While she was the first to resolve a mystery concerning resistance in metals as they are cooled, the explanation is actually credited to another scientist. After many pioneering discoveries, Myriam was finally recognized. She received the Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research from the American Physical Society. Later she became the President of the American Physical Society and was elected to the governing council of the National Academy of Sciences.

Myriam devoted a lot of her time to mentoring younger women in the sciences. She was also a devoted advocate for human rights for scientists around the world.

Think about how we would respond to the kidnapping and murder of one of our children. Would we respond with bitterness? Would we withdraw from society? Would we forsake our calling? Certainly, Myriam struggled with her loss as almost everyone would. But she recovered and renewed her professional calling. In fact, much of her pioneering work came after the loss of her daughter.

Just imagine the will to come back from such a horrific loss. How can we better understand the recovery process? What are the factors most likely to contribute to recovery? And does a successful recovery make us stronger and more determined? Maybe there is no one answer to these questions, but just imagine the impact of how a better understanding of recovery might have on society.

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            “Science is just beginning to make some progress toward understanding awareness. But the mystery is self-awareness”. – Myriam Sarachik

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