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My work and career: The pleasure of finding things out


My work and career: Smart people in science
Joan Feynman Scientist
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You asked at one point if I had problems because I was a woman, and I have a story to tell, which is, I was in high school and some women teachers got together and... to have a meeting where the girls could ask about... I must have been already... I was already a physicist. So I'm not quite sure where it was. But anyway, the girls came and they asked questions and then the teacher asked them questions and so on. It went on for about three quarters of an hour and she never asked me a single question. So I said to her afterwards, 'Why didn't you ask me a question? Physics... science is a very good thing'. And she looked down her nose and said, 'Our girls are interested in nurture, not nature'. And I disagreed with that. So that... those kind of things happened continually. You're in the wrong place when I was growing up. Now it's no longer the wrong place since two women got Nobel Prizes this year in science.

The truth, we were all Jews. That's the truth. We were 80% Jewish and Jewish kids study. And Jewish kids know there's a lot of prejudice against them so they study hard and it becomes a hobby... Nobel Prize work hard to get smart. So that's a secret. That's a Jewish secret. We work hard. So please, don't tell anybody else that. They won't understand.

The guy... We were a bunch of kids backs of 15 or so and minimum of three or four or five – a bunch of kids who were social friends. And they were the people that would be known as geeks to the outside world. OK. They were socially not too good but they were smart. And they never had a friend who was a football player but they might have somebody who has won a prize in some intellectual thing. And... Like one of my best girlfriends became a justice of one of the highest courts, not the Supreme Court but the one just under it. After getting a degree in chemistry and then in law, that's the sort of thing they did. They were just a bunch of friends.

Joan Feynman (1927-2020) was an American astrophysicist. She made important contributions to the study of solar wind particles and fields, sun-Earth relations and magnetospheric physics. In particular, Feynman was known for developing an understanding of the origin of auroras. During her career, Feynman was an author or co-author of more than 100 scientific publications. She also edited three scientific books. In 2002, she was awarded NASA's distinguished Exceptional Achievement Medal.

Listeners: Alexander Ruzmaikin Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: women, science, Jews, geeks, smart

Duration: 4 minutes, 19 seconds

Date story recorded: April 2019

Date story went live: 05 November 2019