Physical Sciences

Our Lives, Our Laureates: Fay Ajzenberg-Selove

"The most important thing in my life is the fact that I’m an American. It’s the first place which accepted me."

"The most important thing in my life is the fact that I’m an American. It’s the first place which accepted me, and one of the reasons why I am so overwhelmed by the award of the National Medal of Science is that it shows that, perhaps, I contributed something to my country.

When the Russian Revolution came, my father got my mother, my sister and himself to Germany. There, he became an investment banker and became very wealthy, then lost it all during the Great Depression.

So we moved to France. And in France, he became a chemical engineer and an industrialist, repaid his debts in Germany.

Then came the war. We escaped along the coast of France, and we were able to get out through Spain, Portugal. We eventually ended up in New York.

I’m a pretty determined person. I was expected to be by my father, and so I just went on, [and] passed the Ph.D. exam. That’s all it took.

There, my father became an electrical engineer and set up a company, and he again became very wealthy. I should explain that we arrived in the States with a hundred dollars and no money waiting here. My father didn’t have a son, so I was his son. He was the one who pushed me to be an engineer, or a scientist…I’m a pretty determined person. I was expected to be by my father, and so I just went on, [and] passed the Ph.D. exam. That’s all it took."