It may have taken Manfred Steiner 89 years to accomplish his life-long dream, but he couldn’t be happier.
Manfred grew up in Vienna, but he and his family fled to the United States as World War II ended. He always had a love for physics, but his family recommended a different career path.
“I knew physics was my true passion by the time I graduated high school,” Manfred said. “But after the war, my uncle and my mother advised me to take up medicine because it would be a better choice in these turbulent after-war years.”
Following their advice, he pursued a career in medicine. He started by earning a medical doctorate in 1955 from the University of Vienna. In the years that followed he trained in internal medicine in Washington D.C., studied hematology at Tufts University, and eventually earn a Ph.D. in biochemistry.
“My uncle was a physician, an ear, nose and throat specialist, and he had taught in the United States for a while. He taught plastic surgery … My family’s advice was that medicine was the best path for me,” Manfred said. “So I reconciled myself, ‘they are older and wiser,’ and I followed their advice.”
Although medicine wasn’t where Manfred’s passion lay, he excelled at it. He had a successful career as a hematologist at Brown University, where he moved up over the years to Assistant Professor of Medicine. By the time he retired in 2000, he had trained generations worth of medical students.
Still, Manfred’s love of physics remained.
“Even when I was in medical school I went at times to lectures by a renowned physicist Walter Thirring,” He said. “His lectures always fascinated me. I was captivated by quantum physics and wished I could go into more detail in this.”
That’s why, at 70-years-old, Manfred began taking physics classes at MIT before switching to Brown University, a place much closer to his home and his heart.
When he began taking these classes, he never dreamed he’d earn his third Ph.D. — slowly but surely, though, he found himself within reach of earning the title of physicist.
“It took a long time because I only took one or two classes every semester but eventually, I had completed all requirements to enter graduate school,” Manfred said.
With Brad Marston as his dissertation advisor, Manfred was tasked with studying bosonization and the ways it can apply to two-dimensional or three-dimensional metals.
“… we had some success with this, but also discovered some limitations, so I gave Manfred the job of trying to move beyond those limitations,” Brad said. “That was a challenging project. I did not give Manfred an easy project.”
Manfred may have been given a challenge, but that only made his successful thesis defense all the more rewarding and inspiring!
“I am really on top of the world,” he said. “This Ph.D. is the one that I most cherish because it’s the one that I was striving for my whole life,” he said.
Now that he’s officially a physicist, Manfred isn’t slowing down anytime soon — right now, he’s rewriting parts of his dissertation for publication.
“Even though I am old, I would like to continue with physics,” Manfred said. “And even after writing and publishing this paper, I want to continue my research.”
Sometimes he wonders what his life could have been like had he not followed his family’s advice, but Manfred says that he no longer regrets his decision.
“It was a good life and I made many great friends,” he said. “It felt very good, particularly after I got my Ph.D. and worked in academic medicine. But physics always lurked in the background.”
Which is exactly why Manfred’s advice to young people is to follow their dreams. His advice to older folks like him, however, is just the same.
“I think young people should follow their dreams whatever they are, they will always regret it if they do not follow their dreams,” Manfred said. “If you have a dream, follow it. Sometimes that dream may never have been verbalized, it may be buried in the subconscious. It is important not to waste your older days.”
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