At 89, He Achieved His Dream of Becoming a Physicist

Rhode Island's Manfred Steiner got Ph.D in physics after retiring from medicine
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 15, 2021 1:45 PM CST
He Retired From Medicine. Then He Became a Physicist at 89
Manfred Steiner, who earned his Ph.D. in physics from Brown University at the age of 89, at his home in East Providence, RI, Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2021.   (AP Photo/Stew Milne)

A 89-year-old Rhode Island man has achieved a goal he spent two decades working toward and nearly a lifetime thinking about—earning his Ph.D. and becoming a physicist. Manfred Steiner recently defended his dissertation successfully at Brown University in Providence. Steiner cherishes this degree because it's what he always wanted—and because he overcame health problems that could have derailed his studies. “But I made it, and this was the most gratifying point in my life, to finish it,” he says. As a teenager in Vienna, Steiner was inspired to become a physicist after reading about Albert Einstein and Max Planck, the AP reports. He admired the precision of physics.

But after World War II, his mother and uncle advised him that studying medicine would be a better choice in turbulent times. He earned his medical degree from the University of Vienna in 1955 and moved to the United States just a few weeks later, where he had a successful career studying blood and blood disorders. Steiner studied hematology at Tufts University and biochemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming a hematologist at Brown University. Steiner helped establish a research program in hematology at the University of North Carolina, which he directed until he retired from medicine in 2000 and returned to Rhode Island. Steiner found medical research satisfying, but it wasn't quite the same as his fascination with physics.

"It was something like a wish that was never fulfilled, that always stuck in the back of my head,” he says. At age 70, he started taking undergraduate classes at Brown. Physics Professor Brad Marston was skeptical when Steiner entered his quantum mechanics class. Marston had taught graduate students in their 40s, but never in their 70s. Then he realized how serious Steiner was about the subject and how hard he worked. Steiner now hopes to help professors he befriended during his studies with their research. He says his advice is: Do what you love to do. "Do pursue it because later in life you maybe regret it, that you didn’t do that," he says. "You wish you could’ve followed this dream."

(Read more education stories.)

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