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Syracuse University, College of Arts and Sciences

Remembering Joan Feynman

Joan Feynman in the field

Posted on: Dec. 4, 2020

In 1958, Joan Feynman (then Hirshberg) became the first woman to receive a physics doctorate from Syracuse University, which had awarded its first physics doctorate in 1950. She corresponded with Josh Goldberg about her experience for an early edition of Physics Matters: “In the 1950’s it was considered that physics was and ought to be a man’s profession only. Women who were interested in the hard sciences were the target of a great deal of discrimination and derision. I was fortunate that I applied to the physics department at Syracuse University. Not only was I accepted but I was actually encouraged there, particularly by professors Peter Bergmann and John Trischka. Without that encouragement and that of my husband Dick Hirshberg, who was a graduate student in anthropology, I would never had been able to complete the degree. My thesis with Mel Lax was in solid-state theory but I received my degree in 1958 when the first measurements of the particles and fields in interplanetary space were being made. Space physics was a new and exciting field that I thought was fascinating. … I have been happily working on Solar-Terrestrial Relations ever since.” Mel Lax, a condensed matter theorist and future member of the National Academy of Sciences, left Syracuse about the same time as Joan. John Trischka was a pioneer in molecular beam experiments, and Peter Bergmann founded the relativity group at Syracuse. Both professors spent their entire careers at Syracuse.

Learn More at SU News.

(Photo Credit: NASA)