Former NASA Physicist
Ruth Begun was the first woman to study doctorate-level physics at the University of Berlin, and lived her long and impressive life using the scientific method as her compass. Born in Germany in 1912, she came to the United States in 1937 with her fiance Semi. She worked at Interchemical in New York City, where she developed and patented a new device called a viscometer, which evinces the speed at which presses bleed ink.
The couple moved to Cleveland in 1941 and Ruth joined NASA Glenn Research Center. There, she co-developed the now commercially viable spacecraft ion engine.
“It was my understanding that Ruth played a significant role in opening doors for women at NASA. And my guess is it was a matter of persistence, and, by her nature, she did not give up,” says Alan Gross, former vice president and director of endowment at the Jewish Federation of Cleveland. “She was a very, very strong woman. She was a scientist and her scientific method, in my opinion, defined her behavior in many ways. Toughness, preciseness, accuracy and desire to achieve goals.”
Begun’s tenacity and determination — and experiences liv-ing in Germany during the pre-World War II years — fueled the founding of the Society for the Prevention of Violence, which she and her husband established in 1972.
“She had the belief that by teaching kids early in life social skills they would be better human beings and society would be better for it,” Gross says. “Everything she did was through that lens.”
Working with Sally Wertheim and John Carroll University, she built an entire curriculum around this idea with the help of teachers from Cleveland Public Schools. That curriculum was incorporated into violence prevention programming in preschools and elementary schools throughout the country and even globally.
In 2001, the couple established the Begun Foundation, also dedicated to addressing the scourge of violence in society. That foundation, affiliated with the Jewish Federation of Cleveland, continues to carry out her philanthropic vision of bettering the community under the direction of her nephew, Al-lan Steinhardt. The Federation and the Begun Foundation partnered with the Tel Aviv Foundation to bring the violence prevention programming to the Amiel-Rambam School.
In addition to being a visiting professor of Rheology (branch of physics that deals with the deformation and flow of matter) at Case Western University, Begun wrote the first of her six books “Social Skills: Lessons and Activities for PreK” in 1990. She continued to work on her writing and to read scientific literature as a centenarian.
After her husband’s death in 1995, Ruth Begun established an endowed chair, the Semi J. and Ruth W. Begun Professorship at Case Western Reserve University. The scholar appointed to the endowed chair serves as the director of the Be-gun Center for Violence Prevention Research and Education, which was founded at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel School of Applied Social Sciences in 2000.
The focus of the new center was to conduct interdisciplinary research into the causes and prevention of violence and to en-gage in the design, implementation and evaluation of school and community evidence-based programs for violence prevention.
Ruth Begun continued to be an avid supporter of social causes until she passed away at the age of 102 in November 2014.