Kistiakowsky’s professional career began in the nuclear chemistry field, later moving to nuclear physics, and then particle physics, and finally astrophysics. She held a postdoctoral fellowship working in experimental nuclear physics with Luis Walter Alvarez. She worked at Columbia University from 1954–1959, first as a research fellow in chemistry, assisting a nuclear chemist; she then found support to become a research associate in the physics department assisting Chien-Shiung Wu. Kistiakowsky and her family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts when her husband got a job at Cambridge Electronic Accelerator. She then worked at Brandeis University for a short time as an assistant professor before starting work at MIT in 1963. At MIT she began her career as a staff member of the MIT Laboratory for Nuclear Science where she worked from 1963 to 1969. She was Senior Research Scientist in the MIT Department of Physics from 1969 to 1971. In 1972 she was the first woman appointed MIT professor of physics.
Vera Kistiakowsky, longtime senior research scientist in the physics department and the Laboratory for Nuclear Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has had an illustrious career in nuclear physics, and is regarded as one of the country’s outstanding scientists in the twentieth century.
She had been a staff member of major research installations and had combined teaching with basic research in nuclear physics both at Columbia and Brandeis Universities before joining the faculty at MIT in 1963, and rising in 1972 to the rank of Professor of Physics, the first woman appointed MIT professor of physics. She is now professor emerita there.
In 1965, under the auspices of the Scientific Exchange Program of the Atomic Energy Commission, she studied and did research at the Physical Institute, Erevan, USSR.
The author of more than 70 scientific papers on such subjects as experimental nuclear physics, experimental high energy physics, and the effects of military funding on university research, she is also the coauthor of a paper on the “Baccalaureate Origins of American Scientists and Scholars,” in which she shows not only the important contributions of women’s colleges but also the special contributions of Mount Holyoke in the physical and life sciences. She has served as chairwoman of the Committee on Women in Physics of the American Physical Society, was coauthor of the report “Women in Physics,” has served as president of the Association for Women in Science, and was an elected member of the Senate of Phi Beta Kappa. She also has published two scientific books for children.
Kistiakowsky, who holds a doctor of philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley, was awarded an honorary doctor of science degree from Mount Holyoke.