Myriam Sarachik, Physicist Who Plumbed Magnetism, Dies at 88

When Dr. Sarachik insisted, Dr. Kusch arranged for her to have an interview at Bell Labs.

In the 1980s, Dr. Sarachik explored how some two-dimensional materials, generally insulators that do not conduct electricity, could turn into metallic conductors, something theorists said was impossible.

She also led experiments about the quantum behavior of molecules that act like magnets. The work demonstrated that the north and south poles of these molecules, each consisting of a couple hundred atoms, could spontaneously flip at cold temperatures where such flips were forbidden by classical physics.

Other physicists had tried to show this as well. But at the time, the materials consisting of these molecules could be made only as powders. The magnetic fields of these crystal specks pointed in random directions, and the evidence was inconclusive.

“She was not satisfied with any speculations,” said Eugene Chudnovsky, a physicist at Lehman College and the City University of New York’s Graduate Center. “I was actually telling her, ‘Myriam, you have very interesting results, you should publish them.’ And she was telling me: ‘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 in a liquid glue and placing the mixture in a strong magnetic field. The crystals lined up with the magnetic field and, as the glue dried, remained pointing in that direction.

That data, unambiguous, set off “an explosion of research in this area,” Dr. Chudnovsky said.

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

In her 2018 autobiographical sketch, Dr. Sarachik ended with observations about fundamental scientific questions that remain, like the nature of human consciousness.

“Science is just beginning to make some progress toward understanding ‘awareness,’” she wrote. “But the real mystery is self-awareness. Why me? My self-awareness will soon be extinguished. For the moment, I’ve been having one hell of a ride!”

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