Science Faculty Spotlight: Myria Sarachik

June 1, 2021

Myria Sarachik in her lab

Born in Antwerp-Belgium in 1933, an escapee from the Nazis in late 1941, raised in Havana-Cuba, Myriam (née Morgenstein) Sarachik immigrated into the United States in March of 1947 at age thirteen. Despite a decidedly unpromising start in her studies of physics, she chose it as her profession earning an A.B. from Barnard College (1954), and M.S. (1957) and Ph. D. (1960) degrees from Columbia University. Despite that women had very few opportunities in physics, a discipline entirely dominated by men at the time, she succeeded in obtaining a postdoc position at Bell Labs in Murray Hill, N. J., where she worked from 1962 to 1964. She then joined the faculty of the City College of New York, CUNY (CCNY) as an Assistant Professor, where she spent the rest of her professional career until she retired in 2018 as a Distinguished Professor of Physics.

In addition to teaching undergraduates and guiding graduate students and postdocs in doing research in her laboratory, Sarachik has been active in defending the human rights of scientists, encouraging women to enter STEM fields, as advisor to government science agencies and local and foreign universities, and as a member of visiting committees and governing bodies of scientific organizations. She served as Vice-President, President-Elect, President and Immediate Past President of APS from 2001 through 2004 and as a member of the governing Council of the National Academy from 2008 through 2010.

Sarachik established a low-temperature laboratory at CCNY where, with students and postdocs, she investigated the behavior of solids near absolute zero. Her research has covered a variety of topics, including superconductivity, disordered metallic alloys, metal-insulator transitions in doped semiconductors and in two-dimensional systems, hopping transport in solids, and properties of single molecule magnets. She is credited with a number of seminal discoveries, including her early demonstration that the “resistance minimum” that occurs in some metals, a feature that had been a puzzle for 30 years, was directly connected to the presence of local magnetic moments, giving rise to Jun Kondo’s “Kondo effect”; and unequivocal evidence for the occurrence of MQTM (Macroscopic Quantum Tunneling of the Magnetic Moment) in Mn12-acetate, a quintessential high-symmetry molecular magnet.

Professor Sarachik has received many honors for her work. She is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Physical Society (APS), the New York Academy of Sciences, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. In 1995 she received the New York City Mayor’s Award for Excellence in Science and Technology and was elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS). She was awarded a 2004 Sloan Public Service Award from the Fund for the City of New York, the 2005 APS Oliver E. Buckley Prize in Condensed Matter Physics, and was named the 2005 L’Oreal/UNESCO for women in science Laureate for North America. She was the recipient of an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Amherst College in 2006 and recently received the 2020 APS Medal for Exceptional Achievement in Research. Also in 2020, she received the Medal of Distinction from her alma mater, Barnard College, and was awarded the biannual Institute of Physics (IOP) President’s Medal.