With brains and brawn, these two women represent true strength. They represent the “new woman,” or better yet, the new and improved woman. The woman who won’t take no as an answer. The woman who has the strength of character to succeed. Women who demand attention because of their convictions and successes. These are new and exciting times to be a woman and my hope is that these stories inspire us all to nurture  brilliant young people to help them find their passion, their purpose.

Eight years ago, a 14-year old girl went to the MIT campus offices to seek approval for a single-engine plane she’d built. Now, Sabrina Pasterski is taking the world of physics by storm, even generating buzz that she might just be the world’s next Einstein.

It’s not hype, either–her papers have been cited by the likes of Stephen Hawking and Andrew Strominger. She was also the first woman to graduate at the top of her undergrad program in 20 years and is now a Harvard Ph.D. candidate at just 22 years old. More facts of Sabrina’s exceptional accomplishments are at the bottom of the post.


This story hits close to home, literally, as I witnessed the eruption from over 150 miles away. For weeks the heroic stories emerged. This story, however, had not yet been fully realized, until recently.


Sue Nystrom

On May 18, 1980, 21-year-old Sue Nystrom was on a weekend camping trip with her boyfriend and four other friends in the national park surrounding Mount St. Helens. Despite being more than 12 miles away from the mountain, they found themselves in the direct path of a boiling hot cloud of volcanic gas and debris, which bore down on them at 600 miles per hour.

When it hit, Sue and Bruce were blown under the roots of a falling tree. Though they were unharmed, their friends were not so lucky. One was so badly burned that his fingers were fused together, while another was left with a crushed hip and broken leg. Another couple were missing. Later they were found in each other’s arms, crushed to death by a fallen tree.

With half-a-billion tons of ash raining down, Sue and Bruce struggled across a devastated landscape of deep ash and fallen trees, looking for help. Suddenly, they heard a helicopter flying overhead. Pilot Mike Cairns had been following their tracks from the air. The former Vietnam veteran and National Guard officer was one of several brave pilots who had volunteered to fly into the ash cloud to search for survivors. Mike comforted Sue on their flight to safety and she has never forgotten his kindness.

Although Sue never saw him again, she was so inspired by Mike’s bravery she joined the National Guard and went on to enjoy a 34-year service career, including two deployments to Afghanistan. The link provided is worth the time to watch, as is the entire series. It provides hope and inspiration for today! 


The link above is the how she finally meets Mike to honor his bravery and thank him for saving her life. She, too, became a hero in her own right for many, many more.

But who is Sabrina? Facts about the exceptional Sabrina Pasterski:

  1. Sabrina Pasterski is a first generation Cuban-American; she was born in Chicago in 1993, then enrolled in the Edison Regional Gifted Center in 1998. She graduated from Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in 2010.
  2. She studies black holes and spacetime, with a focus on explaining gravity in the context of quantum mechanics.
  3. Pasterski began taking flying lessons in 2003 and by 2006, started building her first kit aircraft. A year later, she soloed her fixed wing single engine Cessna 150 in Canada andin 2008, her aircraft was deemed airworthy.
  4. According to NextShark, Pasterski has already been offered jobs by Jeff Bezos at Amazon and aerospace developer/manufacturer Blue Origin.
  5. An only child, Pasterski told Yahooshe has never had a boyfriend, smoked a cigarette or tried an alcoholic drink.
  6. Pasterski was waitlisted when she first applied to MIT. In 2011, she won the school’s Freshman award for “Entrepreneurship.” On graduation, she had earned a 5.00 GPA, the highest possible score.
  7. Pasterski doesn’t own a smartphone. Unlike most millennials, she also avoids social media; you won’t find her on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or even LinkedIn. However, she does keep her websitePhysicsGirl current with her many accomplishments and accolades.
  8. That doesn’t mean she’s totally offline… Pasterski uploaded a video called “Sabrina 2006: Building an Airplane for My Dad” in 2008. It’s been viewed over 193,000 times and she interacts with viewers in the comments.
  9. Her adviser at Harvard, where she’s now a Ph. D. candidate, is Andrew Strominger.
  10. Pasterski has been granted thousands of dollars to support her work, including a $250,000 fellowship (through 2020) with the Hertz Foundation and a $150,000 fellowship (also through 2020) with The National Science Foundation.
  11. She was born to become a physics genius. Pasterski recently told Yahoo, “Physics itself is exciting enough. It’s not like a 9-to-5 thing. When you’re tired you sleep, and when you’re not, you do physics.”
  12. The first paper Pasterski ever wrote was accepted by the Journal of High-Energy Physics within 24 hours of its submission.
  13. Pasterski seems embarrassed by the attention she’s receiving. On her website, she posted an article published about her recently that refers to her as the “next Einstein.” She comments alongside the article: “Sorry for the title, my mentors appear to have astronomically high hopes for me.”
  14. Pasterski graced the front page of the Chicago Tribuneon May 2, 2010, when she was just 16 years old. A photo of young Sabrina in her airplane accompanied a feature on the Chicago Tribune All-State Academic Team.
  15. In 2012, Pasterski was featured in a “30 Under 30” column in Scientific American. She was 19 years old at the time and named Amazon founder Jeff Bezos as the person who drew her to physics (no wonder he has a standing job offer for her now!).
  16. Already an accomplished speaker, Pasterski has given talks at Princeton, Harvard (including the Faculty Conference), MIT, and Forbes Summit Philadelphia.
Uppity Women in our 21st Century
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