Age is just a number to this 89-year-old PhD recipient


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – For 89-year-old Manfred Steiner, becoming a physicist has been a lifelong aspiration.

That’s why when the Rhode Island resident retired at age 70, he started taking physics classes at Brown University.

“It has always been my dream,” he said. “I wanted this.”

When Steiner was younger, his family encouraged him to pursue medicine over physics, so he earned his medical degree and then his first Ph.D. in biochemistry. Prior to retiring, Steiner worked as a hematologist and researched blood disorders at Brown University, eventually becoming the head of the hematology section of the university’s medical school.

(Nick Dentamaro/Brown University)

When asked what drew him to the field of physics, Steiner said the answer is simple: “Precision.”

“In medicine, I always felt there were so many variables,” he said. “In physics, there are some variables, a lot of them actually, but you can go to a precision that is unmatched anywhere in the other scientific world.”

Steiner said he wouldn’t let retirement stop him from learning or giving up on his lifelong goal.

“One or two classes a semester was enough for me,” he said. “So, I went to all the classes and eventually, I made it on to graduate school and I thought, ‘Why not continue now? I might as well get a Ph.D.'”

(Nick Dentamaro/Brown University)

This September, Steiner successfully defended his thesis: “Corrections to the Geometrical Interpretation of Bosonization.”

The piece of work earned him his second Ph.D., this time in physics.

“I was elated, I was, really,” he said. “I mean, I said, ‘I made it! I really made it.'”

(Nick Dentamaro/Brown University)

Steiner is now working on a paper he plans to publish on portions of his dissertation.

While he’s always said he will never stop learning, Steiner said a third Ph.D. isn’t in his plans.

“There are other subjects that I was interested in — philosophy, history — but I said, ‘No, it’s enough.’ Now I’ve reached what I’ve always wanted. Now I want to do it,” he said. “I know I’m going to be 90 soon, but physics is what interests me, and this is what I want to end my life with.”

When asked what advice he’d give other retirees, Steiner suggested always keeping your mind sharp by giving yourself new things to ponder.

Right now, he’s pondering whether he will walk in Brown’s commencement ceremony in May.

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December 31 2021 11:59 pm