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A Meeting of Hearts and Minds at the STS

By Caitlin Jennings, Communications Coordinator, Society for Science & the Public

Boris Kayser grew up on a chicken farm in New Jersey and often felt like he was almost the only student in his high school interested in science. “I remember, to this day, asking one of my classmates a science-related question,” he says, “and having her say to me, correctly, ‘but Boris, nobody is interested in that except you.’”

That changed in 1956 when he became an STS finalist. “That was the first time in my life that I met a whole bunch of other people…who, like me, were interested in science,” he says. “That was very different from anything that had happened before.” About a month before the Science Talent Institute, he went to a party hosted by Roald Hoffman, an STS finalist from the previous year who also went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981. Roald had the gathering so that STS finalists from the tri-state area could get to know each other before the event.  At the party, Boris met Susan, a finalist from Brooklyn who did a project on a possible immunization against tumors. Susan remembers the party, and Boris, well, “I had my eye on him from the beginning, actually.”

Susan and Boris went to separate colleges but dated and, after graduating in 1960, got married. While looking for graduate schools together, they decided on Caltech. Unfortunately, Susan was initially rejected from the astronomy program. “Women aren’t really suited for observing on the long, cold, lonely nights,” she remembers the rejection letter saying. “I thought to myself, this is rubbish.”  However, after convincing them to let her audit classes, she eventually became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Astronomy from the university.

Since then, she has worked at NASA on the Helios and ISEE-3 (later called ICE) spacecraft radio astronomy experiments and later at the National Science Foundation (NSF) on the Gemini Telescopes, among other things. Boris also worked at the NSF where he helped create the Kavli Institute for Theoretical Physics. Boris now works at Fermilab studying neutrinos, which might hold the answer to why the universe has matter but no anti-matter. He recently weighed in on this issue in a Science News article: Neutrino experiments sow seeds of possible revolution. Susan continues to teach off and on and still chases eclipses— she recently got back from seeing one on Easter Island. And, this June, they celebrated their 50 year anniversary by returning to Greece, where they had honeymooned, and attending a Physics conference there.

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