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Helen Sarah Freedhoff (1940–2017) was a Canadian theoretical physicist who studied the interaction of light with atoms.[1] She gained her doctorate at the University of Toronto in 1965 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Imperial College in London.[2] Freedhoff was the first woman appointed as a physics professor at York University in Toronto,[2] and is believed to have been the only woman professor of theoretical physics in Canada at the time.[3] She married Stephen Freedhoff while an undergraduate, and had two children, Michal Freedhoff and Yoni Freedhoff.[4]

Helen S. Freedhoff
Photo of Helen Freedhoff
Dr Helen Freedhoff, 1965
Born Helen Sarah Goodman
(1940-01-09)January 9, 1940
Toronto, Ontario
Died June 10, 2017(2017-06-10) (aged 77)
Muskoka, Ontario
Fields Theoretical physics
Education Harbord Collegiate Institute
Alma mater University of Toronto
Thesis Theory of dipole-dipole interaction in coherent radiation processes (1965)
Notable students Terry Rudolph (PBR theorem)
Known for
Spouse Stephen Freedhoff


Early life and educationEdit

Helen Freedhoff was born Helen Sarah Goodman in Toronto in on 9 January 1940.[4][3] Her parents were Ethel (Kohl) and Sholom Goodman, and she had two brothers David and Irving.[4] Her nickname was "Henchy".[5][4]

In 1957 she graduated from Harbord Collegiate Institute, a downtown public high school with predominantly Jewish students,[5] and a history of many earlier notable alumni, including Charles Best, the co-discoverer of insulin, and architect, Frank Gehry.

Pursuing an academic career in science was unusual for a woman in North America in the 1950s, where, post-war, young men entered science in great numbers and women were pressured to make way.[6] At Harbord, however, Freedhoff did not face opposition, recalling “In high school it never occurred to me that I would have to play dumb to get dates. Nobody ever really discouraged me. The teachers really encouraged me, and nobody taught me that there was anything wrong with having a career”.[5]

Freedhoff enrolled in the Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry stream at the University of Toronto, one of around 10-15 women among 120 first year students.[7] Originally intending to study mathematics, she found that she preferred physics.[2] Freedhoff was the only woman in her year to go on to major in physics, graduating with the highest marks and being awarded the Governor General's Gold Medal.[7] She did not feel professionally disadvantaged by being the only woman, and felt it could be an advantage to stand out.[2]

Freedhoff had summer jobs in Harold Johns' biophysics lab.[2] Johns was a pioneer of medical biophysics, developing cobalt radiation therapy for cancer in the 1940s.[8] Although she enjoyed her time there, and was interested in the work Harry Welsh was doing on lasers, laboratory work was not her forte.[2] Freedhoff was inspired by Jan Van Kranendonk, a theoretical physicist,[9] who encouraged her to undertake postgraduate studies under his supervision.[2] From then on, she dedicated her career to what she has described as "the exhilaration of scientific research"[10] and teaching. "Basic science," she wrote, "is indeed a high form of culture, no less so than music or literature because it is also useful".[10]

Career and researchEdit

Although women had gained nearly 20% of the doctoral degrees awarded in physics by the University of Toronto between 1890 and 1933, no other women gained physics PhDs there until Olga Mracek Mitchell in 1962. [7] Freedhoff became the second,[7] earning her PhD in 1965 with a dissertation titled Theory of dipole-dipole interaction in coherent radiation processes.[11] Women were awarded only 5% of the physics doctorates between 1960 and 1975.[7]

Freedhoff was awarded a postdoctoral fellowship by the National Research Council of Canada, working at Imperial College, London, from 1965 to 1967.[2][12] She studied means of identifying molecular features of atoms trapped in metals with spectroscopy, work which was partly sponsored by the United States Air Force Office of Scientific Research.[12]

While in London, she wrote to the physics department at York University in Toronto enquiring about job opportunities.[7] In 1967, she was appointed assistant professor in physics there, the university's first woman professor in physics and believed to be Canada's only woman professor in theoretical physics at that time.[13][2][14]

Other than a sabbatical year at the Department of Physics of Technion, the Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa from 1986,[15][16] Freedhoff remained at York University until her retirement in 2005, having published over 40 research papers.[17][18] She also collaborated with physicists in Australia,[1] which led to Terry Rudolph undertaking his doctoral studies under Freedhoff's supervision in the 1990s.[19] He is a professor of physics at Imperial College,[20] and together with Matthew Pusey and Jonathan Barrett, one of the developers of the PBR theorem, an important development in quantum mechanics named for its three authors.[21] Rudolph, who is Erwin Schrödinger's grandson,[22] delivered one of the eulogies at Freedhoff's funeral.[23]

Personal lifeEdit

Freedhoff married Stephen Freedhoff when she was around 20.[4] Stephen Freedhoff had graduated with a bachelor of commerce from the University of Toronto in 1957, going on to a career as a chartered accountant and consultant.[14] They had a daughter, Michal Ilana Freedhoff, a son, Yoni Freedhoff, and seven grandchildren.[4] Michal Freedhoff gained a doctorate in solid state chemistry[24] and is director of oversight for the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.[25] Yoni Freedhoff is assistant professor of Family Medicine at the University of Ottawa and author.[26][4] Helen Freedhoff's personal pastimes included reading, playing piano, solving KenKen puzzles, and yoga.[4]

Helen Freedhoff died suddenly on 10 June 2017 at the family's cottage in Muskoka, Ontario, a lakeside area near Toronto.[3]

Selected publicationsEdit

  • W.R. Bruce, M.L. Pearson, Helen S. Freedhoff. The Linear Energy Transfer Distributions Resulting from Primary and Scattered X-Rays and Gamma Rays with Primary HVL's from 1.25 mm Cu to 11 mm Pb. Radiation Research, 19 (4): 606-620.[27]
  • Helen Freedhoff, J. Van Kranendonk (1967). Theory of coherent resonant absorption and emission at infrared and optical frequencies. Can. J. Physics, 45(5): 1833-1859.[28]
  • Helen S. Freedhoff (1979). Collective atomic effects in resonance fluorescence: Dipole-dipole interaction. Phys. Rev. A 19, 1132.[29]
  • Helen S. Freedhoff (1982). Collective atomic effects in resonance fluorescence: The "scaling factor". Phys. Rev. A 26, 684.[30]
  • Helen Freedhoff, Zhidang Chen (1990). Resonance fluorescence of a two-level atom in a strong bichromatic field. Phys. Rev. A 41, 6013.[31]
  • Tran Quang, Helen Freedhoff (1993). Index of refraction of a system of strongly driven two-level atoms. Phys. Rev. A 48, 3216.[32]
  • Helen Freedhoff (2004). Evolution in time of an N-atom system. I. A physical basis set for the projection of the master equation. Physical Review A. 69 (1). [33]


  1. ^ a b "Faculty Members - Freedhoff". York University. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Heap, Ruby; Millar, Wyn; Smyth, Elizabeth M (2005). Learning to practise: professional education in historical and contemporary perspective. Ottawa: University of Ottawa Press. ISBN 0776606050. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  3. ^ a b c "Freedhoff (nee Goodman)". Globe and Mail. 12 June 2017. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h Freedhoff, Yoni. "Remembering My Mother (And Why I Won't Be Around As Much For a While)". Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  5. ^ a b c Bimman, Abigail (30 August 2007). "50-year reunion for Harbord Collegiate grads". The Canadian Jewish News. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  6. ^ Rossiter, Margaret W. (1995). Women Scientists in America: Before Affirmative Action, 1940- 1972. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Prentice, Alison (2006). "A Blackboard in Her Kitchen: Women and Physics at the University of Toronto" (PDF). Scientia Canadensis. 292: 17–44. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  8. ^ "H.E. Johns". Canadian Nuclear Society. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  9. ^ "In memoriam: Jan Van Kranendonk — Department of Physics". University of Toronto. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  10. ^ a b Freedhoff, Helen (Winter 2003). "Gerhard Herzberg: An Illustrious Life in Science by Boris Stoicheff (review)". University of Toronto Quarterly. 73 (1): 305–307. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  11. ^ Freedhoff, Helen Sarah (1965). Theory of dipole-dipole interaction in coherent radiation processes. Toronto: University of Toronto. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  12. ^ a b Freedhoff, Helen S. (1967). "Molecular features in the spectra of atoms trapped in inert gas matrices". Proceedings of the Physical Society. 92 (2): 505. ISSN 0370-1328. doi:10.1088/0370-1328/92/2/328. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  13. ^ "Canadian physisicts" (PDF). Physics in Canada: the bulletin of the Canadian Association of Physicists. 23 (4): 43. Autumn 1967. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  14. ^ a b "Alumni Profiles - Rotman Commerce". Rotman Commerce. University of Toronto. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  15. ^ "Canadian physicists" (PDF). Physics in Canada: the bulletin of the Canadian Association of Physicists. 42 (1): 33. January 1986. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  16. ^ Freedhoff, H. S. (1987). "Cooperative spontaneous emission by a fully inverted array of N atoms: small-sample limit". Journal of Physics B: Atomic and Molecular Physics. 20 (2): 285. ISSN 0022-3700. doi:10.1088/0022-3700/20/2/012. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  17. ^ "Priorities for future hiring". York University. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  18. ^ "Freedhoff, HS: Query Results from the Physics Database". Harvard University. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  19. ^ Rudolph, T (1998). Dressing an atom in a field of many colors (PDF). Toronto: York University. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  20. ^ "Home - Professor Terence Rudolph". Imperial College. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  21. ^ Samuel Reich, Eugenie (17 November 2011). "Quantum theorem shakes foundations". Nature. doi:10.1038/nature.2011.9392. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  22. ^ Ryan, Greg (3 June 2013). "Searching for the Man Behind the Cat". (June). Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  23. ^ Freedhoff, Yoni. "Remembering Helen Freedhoff (1940-2017)". YouTube. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  24. ^ Freedhoff, Michal Ilana (1995). Quantum Confinement Effects on Semiconductor Nanocrystals: Direct, Direct Forbidden and Indirect Gap Materials. Rochester, NY: University of Rochester. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  25. ^ "Michal Freedhoff". LinkedIn. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  26. ^ "Yoni Freedhoff". University of Ottawa. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  27. ^ Bruce, W. R.; Pearson, M. L.; Freedhoff, Helen S. (August 1963). "The Linear Energy Transfer Distributions Resulting from Primary and Scattered X-Rays and Gamma Rays with Primary HVL's from 1.25 mm Cu to 11 mm Pb". Radiation Research. 19 (4): 606. doi:10.2307/3571481. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  28. ^ Freedhoff, Helen; Kranendonk, J. Van (May 1967). "THEORY OF COHERENT RESONANT ABSORPTION AND EMISSION AT INFRARED AND OPTICAL FREQUENCIES". Canadian Journal of Physics. 45 (5): 1833–1859. doi:10.1139/p67-142. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  29. ^ Freedhoff, Helen S. (1 March 1979). "Collective atomic effects in resonance fluorescence: Dipole-dipole interaction". Physical Review A. 19 (3): 1132–1139. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.19.1132. 
  30. ^ Freedhoff, Helen S. (1 July 1982). "Collective atomic effects in resonance fluorescence: The "scaling factor"". Physical Review A. 26 (1): 684–688. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.26.684. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  31. ^ Freedhoff, Helen; Chen, Zhidang (1 June 1990). "Resonance fluorescence of a two-level atom in a strong bichromatic field". Physical Review A. 41 (11): 6013–6022. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.41.6013. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  32. ^ Quang, Tran; Freedhoff, Helen (1 October 1993). "Index of refraction of a system of strongly driven two-level atoms". Physical Review A. 48 (4): 3216–3218. doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.48.3216. Retrieved 17 June 2017. 
  33. ^ Freedhoff, Helen (23 January 2004). "Evolution in time of an N-atom system. I. A physical basis set for the projection of the master equation". Physical Review A. 69 (1). doi:10.1103/PhysRevA.69.013814. Retrieved 17 June 2017.