General Lab Information

Gertrude Scharff-Goldhaber

Gertrude Scharff-Goldhaber

Gertrude Scharff-Goldhaber was named the first life member of Brookhaven Women in Science in April 1988 because of her contributions to nuclear physics and for advancing the cause of women in science.

A pioneer of the variable moment of inertia model describing the shapes of rotating nuclei, Scharff-Goldhaber specialized in studying the systematics and characteristics of nuclear excitations in a wide range of nuclei and has synthesized her understanding of these static and dynamic nuclear properties into far-ranging models.

In the early 1960’s, Scharff-Goldhaber began studying the spherical-­deformed phase transition in the isotopes of osmium. She began her study of the variable moment of inertia model in the late 60’s, and she experimentally examined the high and low spin states in palladium.

Her physics career began in 1935, when Scharff-Goldhaber earned a Ph.D. in experimental physics, summa cum laude, from the University of Munich in her native Germany. Her thesis was on ferromagnetism. From 1935-39, she was a research assistant in the Physics Department of the Imperial College of Science and Technology, London, England, where she carried out electron diffraction research.

In 1939, after marrying Maurice Goldhaber, who was at that time on the staff of the University of Illinois and who later became Brookhaven's third Laboratory Director from 1961-73, Scharff-Goldhaber joined the staff of the University of Illinois, first as a research physicist from 1939-48 and then as a special research assistant professor from 1948-50.

In 1942, during World War II, Scharff-Goldhaber discovered that spontaneous fission is associated with the emission of neutrons, a discovery classified top secret and not published in the open literature until 1946. In 1948, she and Maurice Goldhaber established the identity of beta particles with atomic electrons.

After first coming to BNL as a visiting associate physicist from June 1949 to February 1950, Scharff-Goldhaber was hired by the Lab as an associate physicist in June 1950 -- and became the first woman on the Brookhaven staff with a Ph.D. She moved up the ranks, to Physicist in 1958, and to Senior Physicist in 1962. She retired in 1977 but continued her association with the Laboratory as a research collaborator.

In addition to advancing her own career as a woman in science, Scharff­ Goldhaber was deeply involved with advancing the cause of science education -- for scientists, teachers, students and non-scientists alike -- and the cause of women in science -- on both the educational and professional levels.

In 1960, Scharff-Goldhaber started the Brookhaven Lecture series, which continues today to introduce Laboratory scientists and others to the research done by their BNL colleagues in different fields. On March 17, 1971, she presented the 100th BNL Lecture, “Collective Motions in Atomic Nuclei”, and she remained an ex officio member of the lecture committee that oversaw the series.

Her interest in fostering a general understanding of physics was demonstrated by her introduction of a physical science course at the Lab for Suffolk County high-school science teachers. The course began in 1958, following Sputnik, and continued to update local secondary school science instructors on such topics as energy, radiation and modern physics. Scharff-Goldhaber served as a councilor-at-large of the American Physical Society (APS) from 1978 to 1982, during which time she promoted pre-college physics education. Scharff-Goldhaber also was a member of the education advisory committee of the New York Academy of Sciences in 1982, introducing pre­-college students to physics as a career option.

Working to advance the cause of women in science, Scharff-Goldhaber served on APS’s 1971-72 committee on the problems of women in physics, and on the National Research Council’s Commission on Human Resources committee on the education and employment of women in science and engineering, 1978-83.

Robert Park of the APS described Scharff-Goldhaber as “one of the great women pioneers in what was an almost exclusively male profession. … An inspiration to generations of women in physics, she was only the third female physicist elected to the National Academy of Sciences.”

An original member of BWIS, Scharff-Goldhaber lent her advice, encouragement, and support to the group and its endeavors. For example, she was a participant in BWIS career days held at the Laboratory as part of the One Mind school program; she acted as a role model to encourage school girls to consider careers in science and as an informational resource about scientific educational options and employment trends for their science teachers and guidance counselors.

During the 1984-85 academic year, Scharff-Goldhaber lectured at 13 colleges and universities as a Phi Beta Kappa visiting scholar. During her campus visits, she talked about the lives of famous women in science, discussing what obstacles they had to overcome in pursuing their careers and presenting them as role models for today’s women students.

Scharff-Goldhaber was elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1972 – at the time, BNL's only female scientist who was so honored. She was also a member of Sigma Xi, an APS fellow since 1947, and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science since 1980. She also was a member of the board of trustees of Universities Research Association, which governs Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory, 1972-77.

The Leo Baeck Institute has compiled a catalogue for Scharff-Goldhaber's works and published it online. View the digital collection .

Scharff-Goldhaber wrote about physicist Marie Curie's impact as a woman in science. Read the special interest paper

Past Goldhaber Award Winners

Year Name Affiliation
2023 Xiaofeng Wang Shandong University
2022 Jiayi Chen Brandeis University
2021 Yanzhu Chen Stony Brook University
2020 Rebekah Pestes Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
2019 Brooke Russell Yale University
2018 Minjung Kim Seoul National University
2017 Anna Gura Stony Brook University
2016 Kathryn Meehan University of California, Davis
2015 Fen Guan Stony Brook University
2014 Li Yi Purdue University
2013 Sara Callori Stony Brook University
2012 Marija Kotur Stony Brook University
2011 Megan Connors Stony Brook University
2010 Johanna Nelson Stony Brook University
2009 Na Li Central China Normal University
2008 Christine Nattrass Yale University
2007 Manuela Kulaxizi Stony Brook University
2006 Enju Lima Stony Brook University
2005 Anne Sickles Stony Brook University
2004 Mirna Lerotic Stony Brook University
2003 Lilia Anguelova Stony Brook University
2003 Carola Berger Stony Brook University
2002 Yiing-Rei Chen Stony Brook University
2001 Jane Burward-Hoy Stony Brook University
2001 Irina Mocioiu Stony Brook University
2001 Rebecca Christianson Massachusetts Institute of Technology
2000 Diana Vaman Stony Brook University
1999 Angelika Osanna Stony Brook University
1998 Shan-Ho Tsai Stony Brook University
1998 Mary Josephine Bellanca Stony Brook University
1997 N.N. N.N.
1996 Q. Joan Harris Massachusetts Institute of Technology
1995 N.N. N.N.
1994 Fang Shu Stony Brook University
1992 Xiaodong Zhang Stony Brook University