Penn Physicist Fay Ajzenberg-Selove Among Eight Scientists to Receive the 2007 National Medal of Science

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Media Contact:Jordan Reese | | 215-573-6604August 26, 2008

PHILADELPHIA - University of Pennsylvania physicist Fay Ajzenberg-Selove, is among eight recipients of the 2007 National Medal of Science, the nation's highest honor for science. Ajzenberg-Selove and her fellow honorees will receive their medals at a White House ceremony Sept. 29.

Ajzenberg-Selove joined Penn in 1970 and made significant advances in the field of nuclear physics for decades. Her principal work on understanding light nuclei, the elements of stars, is considered a global reference for physicists old and new. Her research and experimentation continue to apply to energy fusion, carbon dating and nuclear medicine.

Ajzenberg-Selove arrived in the United States as a refugee during World War II and became a pioneer in a male-dominated field. Often the only female engineering student in her undergraduate and graduate classes, she became the first female physics student, instructor and researcher most institutions had ever seen, including the California Institute of Technology, Columbia University and Haverford College. Even those institutions that appeared reluctant to hire a woman later awarded her the institutions’ highest teaching honors.

"Fay Ajzenberg-Selove deserves our most heartfelt congratulations for this national honor,” Penn President Amy Gutmann said. “As a researcher, as a teacher and as a pathbreaking woman she has touched the lives of generations and made an indelible mark on the field of physics and on American higher education."

Born of Russian ancestry in Berlin, Ajzenberg-Selove and her family fled Europe during World War II, arriving in the United States when she was 15. The daughter of an engineer, she received her bachelor’s degree in engineering physics from the University of Michigan in 1946 and her doctorate in physics from the University of Wisconsin in 1952.

Ajzenberg-Selove, cited more than 6,000 times by the Institute for Scientific Information, has won the Distinguished Alumni Fellow Award from the University of Wisconsin, the 1999 Nicholson Medal for Humanitarian Service from the American Physical Society; honorary doctorates from Haverford College, Michigan State University and Smith College; and Penn’s Christian and Mary Lindback Foundation Award for Distinguished Teaching.

A professor emeritus at Penn, Ajzenberg-Selove served as a chair of the Commission on Nuclear Physics, was a member of the Nuclear Science Advisory Committee of the Department of Energy and National Science Foundation, a member of the Governing Council of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and chair of the Division of Nuclear Physics of the American Physical Society.

Ajzenberg-Selove has authored hundreds of scientific papers, primarily on light nuclei and the way it absorbs and emits energy. She organized the first ever "Women in Physics" conference for the American Physical Society and in 1994 published an autobiography, “A Matter of Choices. Memoirs of a Female Physicist.”

The National Medal of Science honors individuals for pioneering scientific research in a range of fields, including physical, biological, mathematical, social, behavioral and engineering sciences, that enhances understanding of the world and leads to innovations and technologies. The National Science Foundation administers the award, which was established by Congress in 1959.