Fay Ajzenberg-Selove was born to a Jewish family in Berlin, Germany. In 1930, when she was a small child, they moved to Paris for her father's work running a sugar factory. She attended the Lycée Victor-Duruy. After the German invasion of France in World War II in 1940, the family set off on a difficult and dangerous journey across France and over the Pyrenees to Portugal. After stays in the Dominican Republic and Cuba, they were admitted to the USA and settled in New York City. She
earned a PhD in physics from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1952 and became the second woman ever to win tenure at the university. In 1955, she married Walter Selove, an experimental physicist. She also taught at the University of Pennsylvania and Boston University. She was noted for her dedication to teaching and her contributions to nuclear spectrometry of light elements. In addition to scholarly journal articles, she wrote an autobiography, A Matter of Choice: Memoirs of a Female Physicist, published in 1994.