Barnard College

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
video conference
Abstract

Myriam Sarachik, Distinguished Professor Emerita Physics at City College of New York, is interviewed by David Zierler. Sarachik recounts her turbulent childhood first in Belgium, from which her orthodox Jewish family evacuated during World War II, then in Cuba, and then in New York. She describes some of the challenges of being a girl interested in science and she recounts her undergraduate at Barnard, where her talents in physics first became apparent. Sarachik discusses the formative influence of Polykarp Kusch and her experiences with Dick Garwin, who was her graduate advisor at Columbia. She explains her dissertation research measuring the attenuation of a magnetic field through a superconducting film right at the time that BCS (Bardeen-Cooper-Schrieffer) theory was developing. Sarachik describes her postgraduate work at Bell Labs, where she worked in Ted Geballe’s group, and where she conducted research in measuring the resistivity of alloys for which her findings came to be known as the Kondo effect. Sarachik discusses her decision to leave Bell to join the faculty at City College, where she immediately got to work building a lab and taking on students. She describes her coping mechanisms in her attempt to continue her career following the tragic loss of her child. Sarachik discusses her work on doped semiconductors and then in searching for the macroscopic quantum tunneling of magnetization. She reflects on her feelings of validation within the field as it related to her advisory work on numerous scientific boards and committees, and in particular her tenure as president of the APS. Sarachik describes her subsequent research on metal insulator transitions in two dimensions, and she conveys the impact of her major profile in the New York Times in 2020. At the end of the interview, Sarachik returns to her religious family roots and affirms both the cultural influence of this upbringing and her subsequent embrace of atheism. Sarachik concludes expressing wonderment at what the true meaning of quantum mechanical effects might tell us about nature. 

 

Interviewed by
David Zierler
Interview date
Location
Video conference
Abstract

In this interview, David Zierler, Oral Historian for AIP, interviews Helen Berman, Professor Emerita at Rutgers, where she remains affiliated with the Proteomic Center and the Institute for Quantitative Medicine. Berman recounts her childhood in Brooklyn, her early adventures in science working in a lab at Barnard College, and she expounds on how Martin Buber’s “I-Thou” concept, which she learned as an undergraduate, continues to shape her thinking today. Berman explains her early interests and talents in crystallography, which she learned from Barbara Low of Columbia. Berman describes her decision to pursue her graduate degree at the University of Pittsburgh, where she worked with George Jeffrey and where she completed her dissertation on carbohydrate crystallography. She explains the sequence of events leading to her career at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia where she researched nucleic acids, and how a personal health scare led her to make a significant personal and career shift. Berman describes her early involvement with the Protein Data Bank at Brookhaven Lab and her vision to harness computational power to grow the PDB into a massive collaborative effort and the rise of structural bioinformatics. In the last portion of the interview, Berman describes her decisions to move to California, and her recent foray into documentaries that focus on human health issues HIV and diabetes, which stem from her broader interest in improving the way that scientists interface with the broader public.