The first Navajo to receive a Ph.D. in physics, Fred Begay was born at Towaoc, Colorado on the Ute Mountain Indian Reservation. Both of his parents were Navajo and Ute. While still a young child his parents started teaching him Navajo medicine. His modern education began in 1942 when he began to attend a Bureau of Indian Affairs school. Never graduating he joined the Army in 1951 and served in the Korean War.
Returning home, he married and started running a farm. However, the Navajo Nation was recruiting war veterans to attend college. Begay was accepted at the University of New Mexico. Under this program Begay received in bachelors degree in math and science in 1961, his master’s in physics in 1963 and his Ph.D in physics in 1971.
Begay joined the physics staff of Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1971. His work is in the alternative use of laser, electron and ion beams to heat thermonuclear plasmas (alternative energy sources). He has volunteered his time to advise the Navajo Nation on science and technology matters. He also takes time to mentor middle school Navajo children. He received the American Indian Science and Engineering Society’s Ely Parker Award in 1992, the National Science Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1994 and the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society for the Advancemnt of Chicanos and Native Americans in Science in 1999. Begay also heads the Seaborg Hall of Science, an organization that provides science and technology related services to the Navajo community.