Myriam Sarachik, physicist who probed magnetism, dies at 88

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When Dr Sarachik insisted, Dr Kusch set up an interview with Bell Labs.

In the 1980s, Dr Sarachik explored how certain two-dimensional materials, typically insulators that don’t conduct electricity, could turn into metallic conductors, which theorists said was impossible.

She has also conducted experiments on the quantum behavior of molecules that act like magnets. The work demonstrated that the north and south poles of these molecules, each made up of a few hundred atoms, could spontaneously turn over at cold temperatures, where such reversals were prohibited by classical physics.

Other physicists had also tried to show it. But at the time, the materials made from these molecules could only be made in the form of powders. The magnetic fields of these crystal grains were pointing in random directions, and the evidence was inconclusive.

“She was not satisfied with any speculation,” said Eugene Chudnovsky, a physicist at Lehman College and the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. “In fact, I was like, ‘Miriam, you have some very interesting results, you should publish them.’ And she was like, ‘No, let’s wait. I want to understand it better.

One of Dr. Sarachik’s students, Jonathan Friedman, provided a solution by mixing the powder into a liquid glue and placing the mixture in a strong magnetic field. The crystals aligned with the magnetic field and, as the glue dried, stayed oriented in that direction.

These data, unambiguously, triggered “an explosion of research in this area,” said Dr Chudnovsky.

In addition to her daughter, Dr. Sarachik, who lived on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, is survived by her husband; one brother, Henry Morgenstein; and three grandchildren.

In his 2018 autobiographical sketch, Dr Sarachik ended with observations on fundamental scientific questions that remain, such as the nature of human consciousness.

“Science is just beginning to make progress towards understanding ‘consciousness’,” she wrote. “But the real mystery is self-sensitization. Why me? My self-awareness will soon be extinguished. For the moment, I’ve had a hell of a walk!


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