Maria Goeppert Mayer (June 28, 1906 – February 20, 1972) was a German-born American theoretical physicist, and Nobel laureate in Physics for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus. She was the second woman to win a Nobel Prize in physics, the first being Marie Curie.
A graduate of the University of Göttingen, Goeppert Mayer wrote her doctoral thesis on the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. At the time, the chances of experimentally verifying her thesis seemed remote, but the development of the laser permitted this. Today, the unit for the two-photon absorption cross section is named the Goeppert Mayer (GM) unit.
Maria Goeppert married Joseph Edward Mayer and moved to the United States, where he was an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University. Strict rules against nepotism prevented Johns Hopkins University from taking her on as a faculty member, but she was given a job as an assistant and published a landmark paper on double beta decay in 1935. In 1937, she moved to Columbia University, where she took an unpaid position. During World War II, she worked for the Manhattan Project at Columbia on isotope separation, and with Edward Teller at the Los Alamos Laboratory on the development of the Teller's "Super" bomb.
After the war, Goeppert Mayer became a voluntary associate professor of Physics at the University of Chicago (where Teller and her husband worked) and a senior physicist at the nearby Argonne National Laboratory. She developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, which she shared with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Wigner. In 1960, she was appointed full professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego.
Maria Goeppert Mayer
June 28, 1906
|Died||February 20, 1972 (aged 65)|
San Diego, California, United States
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen|
|Known for||Nuclear shell model|
|Spouse(s)||Joseph Edward Mayer|
|Awards||Nobel Prize in Physics (1963)|
|Institutions||Sarah Lawrence College|
Los Alamos Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory
University of California, San Diego
University of Chicago
|Doctoral advisor||Max Born|
|Doctoral students||Robert G. Sachs|
Maria Göppert was born on June 28, 1906, in Kattowitz (now Katowice, Poland), a city in Prussia, the only child of Friedrich Göppert and his wife Maria née Wolff. In 1910, she moved with her family to Göttingen when her father, a sixth-generation university professor, was appointed as the professor of pediatrics at the University of Göttingen. Goeppert was closer to her father than her mother. "Well, my father was more interesting," she later explained. "He was after all a scientist."
Göppert was educated at the Höhere Technische in Göttingen, a school for middle-class girls who aspired to higher education. In 1921, she entered the Frauenstudium, a private high school run by suffragettes that aimed to prepare girls for university. She took the abitur, the university entrance examination, at age 17, a year early, with three or four girls from her school and thirty boys. All the girls passed, but only one of the boys did.
In the Spring of 1924, Göppert entered the University of Göttingen, where she studied mathematics. A purported shortage of women mathematics teachers for schools for girls led to an upsurge of women studying mathematics at a time of high unemployment, and there was even a female professor of mathematics at Göttingen, Emmy Noether, but most were only interested in qualifying for their teaching certificates.
Instead, Goeppert became interested in physics, and chose to pursue a Ph.D. In her 1930 doctoral thesis she worked out the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. Eugene Wigner later described the thesis as "a masterpiece of clarity and concreteness". At the time, the chances of experimentally verifying her thesis seemed remote, but the development of the laser permitted the first experimental verification in 1961 when two-photon-excited fluorescence was detected in a europium-doped crystal. To honor her fundamental contribution to this area, the unit for the two-photon absorption cross section is named the "GM". One GM is 10−50 cm4 s photon−1. Her examiners were three Nobel prize winners: Max Born, James Franck and Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus (in 1954, 1925, and 1928, respectively).
On January 19, 1930, Goeppert married Joseph Edward Mayer, an American Rockefeller fellow who was one of James Franck's assistants. The two had met when Mayer had boarded with the Goeppert family. The couple moved to Mayer's home country of the United States, where he had been offered a position as associate professor of chemistry at Johns Hopkins University. They had two children, Maria Ann (who later married Donat Wentzel) and Peter Conrad.
Strict rules against nepotism prevented Johns Hopkins University from hiring Goeppert Mayer as a faculty member. These rules, created at many universities to prevent patronage, had by this time lost their original purpose and were primarily used to prevent the employment of women married to faculty members. She was given a job as an assistant in the Physics Department working with German correspondence, for which she received a very small salary, a place to work and access to the facilities. She taught some courses, and published an important paper on double beta decay in 1935.
There was little interest in quantum mechanics at Johns Hopkins but Goeppert Mayer worked with Karl Herzfeld in this area. They collaborated on a number of papers, including a paper with Herzfeld's student A.L. Sklar on the spectrum of benzene. She also returned to Göttingen in the summers of 1931, 1932 and 1933 to work with her former examiner Born, writing an article with him for the Handbuch der Physik. This ended when the NSDAP came to power in 1933, and many academics, including Born and Franck, lost their jobs. Goeppert Mayer and Herzfeld became involved in refugee relief efforts.
Joe Mayer was fired in 1937. He attributed this to the hatred of women on the part of the dean of physical sciences, which he thought was provoked by Goeppert Mayer's presence in the laboratory. Herzfeld agreed and added that, with Goeppert Mayer, Franck and Herzfeld all at Johns Hopkins, some thought that there were too many German scientists there. There were also complaints from some students that Mayer's chemistry lectures contained too much modern physics. Mayer took up a position at Columbia University, where the chairman of the Physics Department, George B. Pegram, arranged for Goeppert Mayer to have an office, but she received no salary. She soon made good friends with Harold Urey and Enrico Fermi, who arrived at Columbia in 1939. Fermi asked her to investigate the valence shell of the undiscovered transuranic elements. Using the Thomas–Fermi model, she predicted that they would form a new series similar to the rare earth elements. This proved to be correct.
In December 1941, Goeppert Mayer took up her first paid professional position, teaching science part-time at Sarah Lawrence College. In the spring of 1942, with the United States embroiled in World War II, she joined the Manhattan Project. She accepted a part-time research post from Urey with Columbia University's Substitute Alloy Materials (SAM) Laboratories. The objective of this project was to find a means of separating the fissile uranium-235 isotope in natural uranium; she researched the chemical and thermodynamic properties of uranium hexafluoride and investigated the possibility of separating isotopes by photochemical reactions. This method proved impractical at the time, but the development of lasers would later open the possibility of separation of isotopes by laser excitation.
Through her friend Edward Teller, Goeppert Mayer was given a position at Columbia with the Opacity Project, which researched the properties of matter and radiation at extremely high temperatures with an eye to the development of the Teller's "Super" bomb, the wartime program for the development of thermonuclear weapons. In February 1945, Joe was sent to the Pacific War, and Goeppert Mayer decided to leave her children in New York and join Teller's group at the Los Alamos Laboratory. Joe came back from the Pacific earlier than expected, and they returned to New York together in July 1945.
In February 1946, Joe became a professor in the Chemistry Department and the new Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, and Goeppert Mayer was able to become a voluntary associate professor of physics at the school. When Teller also accepted a position there, she was able to continue her Opacity work with him. When the nearby Argonne National Laboratory was founded on July 1, 1946, Goeppert Mayer was also offered a part-time job there as a senior physicist in the theoretical physics division. She responded "I don't know anything about nuclear physics." She programmed the Aberdeen Proving Ground's ENIAC to solve criticality problems for a liquid metal cooled reactor using the Monte Carlo method.
During her time at Chicago and Argonne in the late 1940s, Goeppert Mayer developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, which she published in 1950. Her model explained why certain numbers of nucleons in an atomic nucleus result in particularly stable configurations. These numbers are what Eugene Wigner called magic numbers: 2, 8, 20, 28, 50, 82, and 126. Enrico Fermi provided a critical insight by asking her: "Is there any indication of spin orbit coupling?" She realised that this was indeed the case, and postulated that the nucleus is a series of closed shells and pairs of neutrons and protons tend to couple together. She described the idea as follows:
Think of a room full of waltzers. Suppose they go round the room in circles, each circle enclosed within another. Then imagine that in each circle, you can fit twice as many dancers by having one pair go clockwise and another pair go counterclockwise. Then add one more variation; all the dancers are spinning twirling round and round like tops as they circle the room, each pair both twirling and circling. But only some of those that go counterclockwise are twirling counterclockwise. The others are twirling clockwise while circling counterclockwise. The same is true of those that are dancing around clockwise: some twirl clockwise, others twirl counterclockwise.
Three German scientists, Otto Haxel, J. Hans D. Jensen, and Hans Suess, were also working on solving the same problem, and arrived at the same conclusion independently. While their results were announced in an issue of the Physical Review before Goeppert Mayer in June 1949, Goeppert Mayer's work was received for review in February 1949, while the work of the German authors was received later in April 1949. Afterwards, she collaborated with them. Hans Jensen co-authored a book with Goeppert Mayer in 1950 titled Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure. In 1963, Goeppert Mayer, Jensen, and Wigner shared the Nobel Prize for Physics "for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure." She was the second female Nobel laureate in physics, after Marie Curie, and would be the last for over half a century, until Donna Strickland was awarded the prize in 2018.
In 1960, Goeppert Mayer was appointed full professor of physics at the University of California, San Diego. Although she suffered from a stroke shortly after arriving there, she continued to teach and conduct research for a number of years. She was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1965. Goeppert Mayer died in San Diego, California, on February 20, 1972, after a heart attack that had struck her the previous year left her comatose. She was buried at El Camino Memorial Park in San Diego.
After her death, the Maria Goeppert Mayer Award was created by the American Physical Society (APS) to honor young female physicists at the beginning of their careers. Open to all female physicists who hold Ph.D.s, the winner receives money and the opportunity to give guest lectures about her research at four major institutions. In December 2018, the APS named Argonne National Laboratory an APS Historic Site in recognition of her work. Argonne National Laboratory also honors her by presenting an award each year to an outstanding young woman scientist or engineer, while the University of California, San Diego hosts an annual Maria Goeppert Mayer symposium, bringing together female researchers to discuss current science. Crater Goeppert Mayer on Venus, which has a diameter of about 35 km, is also named after Goeppert-Mayer. In 1996, she was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame. In 2011, she was included in the third issuance of the American Scientists collection of US postage stamps, along with Melvin Calvin, Asa Gray, and Severo Ochoa. Her papers are in the Geisel Library at the University of California, San Diego, and the university's physics department is housed in Mayer Hall, which is named after her and her husband.
Absorption cross section is a measure for the probability of an absorption process. More generally, the term cross section is used in physics to quantify the probability of a certain particle-particle interaction, e.g., scattering, electromagnetic absorption, etc. (Note that light in this context is described as consisting of particles, i.e., photons.) In honor of the fundamental contribution of Maria Goeppert Mayer to this area, the unit for the two-photon absorption cross section is named the "GM". One GM is 10−50 cm4 s photon−1.
In the context of ozone shielding of ultraviolet light, absorption cross section is the ability of a molecule to absorb a photon of a particular wavelength and polarization. Analogously, in the context of nuclear engineering it refers to the probability of a particle (usually a neutron) being absorbed by a nucleus. Although the units are given as an area, it does not refer to an actual size area, at least partially because the density or state of the target molecule will affect the probability of absorption. Quantitatively, the number dN of photons absorbed, between the points x and x + dx along the path of a beam is the product of the number N of photons penetrating to depth x times the number n of absorbing molecules per unit volume times the absorption cross section σ:
The absorption cross-section is closely related to molar absorptivity and mass absorption coefficient. For a given particle and its energy, the absorption cross-section of the target material can be calculated from mass absorption coefficient using:
This is also commonly expressed as:
Amy J. Barger (born January 18, 1971) is an American astronomer whose discoveries have most concerned quasars, black holes, and other far distant objects. She helped show that the activity of black holes in nearby galaxies was greater and more recent than expected. She also worked with others on discoveries concerning stellar activity in distant galaxies. She currently is a professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.
Barger earned a Ph.D. in Astronomy in 1997 from King's College, University of Cambridge where she was a Marshall scholar. Following which she worked on the Morphs collaboration studying the formation and morphologies of distant galaxies. She has received numerous awards and fellowships, including the 2001 Annie J. Cannon Award in Astronomy and the 2002 Pierce Prize of the American Astronomical Society, the 2007 Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award of the American Physical Society and a 2002 Alfred P. Sloan and a 2003 David and Lucille Packard fellowships.
In 2017 she was elected as a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.Ana Maria Rey
Ana Maria Rey is a Colombian theoretical physicist, professor at University of Colorado at Boulder and a JILA fellow. Noted for her research into ultra-cold atoms, she was awarded a "Genius" grant in 2013 by the MacArthur Foundation and the 2014 Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award of the American Physical Society.Boris Jacobsohn
Boris Abbott Jacobsohn (30 July 1918, New York City – 26 December 1966) was an American physicist, known for his contributions to the study of muonic atoms.Jacobsohn graduated from Columbia University with B.S. in 1938 and M.S in 1939. At the beginning of the Manhattan Project, he worked with Enrico Fermi at Columbia. Jacobsohn, along with his wife Ruth, moved with Fermi's team in early 1942 to the University of Chicago for the team's relocation to the Metallurgical Laboratory, where he worked until the end of WWII. In late 1945, Edward Teller invited Maria Goeppert-Mayer, along with her two students Boris Jacobsohn and Harris Mayer, to Los Alamos to work on the development of the thermonuclear bomb. For this work, Jacobsohn received, in 1947 after declassification of the research, his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago with thesis under the supervision of Edward Teller. For the academic year 1947–1948, Jacobsohn was an instructor at Stanford University. In 1948 he became an assistant professor in the physics department of the University of Washington. There he was appointed a full professor in 1959 and remained until he died of a heart attack on a skiing vacation.
He was the author of theoretical publications in astrophysics, nuclear physics, elementary particles, magnetism and many-body physics. His early contributions to the study of muonic atoms are still of great importance. He was also known for his theoretical studies of tests for time reversal invariance in strong and electromagnetic interactions.
In 1961 Jacobsohn was elected a Fellow of the American Institute of Physics. After his death, a fund was established to annually bring a distinguished physicist, elected by vote of the graduate students in the physics department, to the University of Washington as Boris A. Jacobsohn Memorial Lecturer.Chanchal Kumar Majumdar
Chanchal Kumar Majumdar (Bengali: [Cañcāla kumāra majumadāra]) (11 August 1938 – 20 June 2000) was an Indian condensed matter physicist and the founder director of S.N. Bose National Centre for Basic Sciences. Known for his research in quantum mechanics, Majumdar was an elected fellow of all the three major Indian science academies – the Indian National Science Academy, the National Academy of Sciences, India, and the Indian Academy of Sciences – as well a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Physical Society.
Majumdar was the mentor of Dipan Ghosh with whom he co-developed the Majumdar–Ghosh model, an extension of the Heisenberg model which improved upon the latter, and was a protege of Walter Kohn and Maria Goeppert-Mayer, both Nobel laureates. The Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the apex agency of the Government of India for scientific research, awarded him the Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar Prize for Science and Technology, one of the highest Indian science awards, for his contributions to Physical Sciences in 1976.Elizabeth Beise
Elizabeth J. (Betsy) Beise is a Professor of Physics and Associate Provost at the University of Maryland, College Park. She works on quantum chromodynamics, nucleon structure and fundamental symmetries.Enrico Fermi Institute
The Institute for Nuclear Studies was founded September 1945 as part of the University of Chicago with Samuel King Allison as director. On November 20, 1955 it was renamed The Enrico Fermi Institute for Nuclear Studies. The name was shortened to The Enrico Fermi Institute (EFI) in January 1968.
Physicist Enrico Fermi was heavily involved in the founding years of the institute, and it was at his request that Allison took the position as the first director. In addition to Fermi and Allison, the initial faculty included Harold C. Urey, Edward Teller, Joseph E. Mayer, and Maria Goeppert Mayer.Feryal Özel
Feryal Özel (born May 27, 1975) is a Turkish-American astrophysicist born in Istanbul, Turkey, specializing in the physics of compact objects and high energy astrophysical phenomena. As of 2019, Özel is a professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson, in the Astronomy Department and Steward Observatory.
Özel received her PhD at Harvard University and was a Hubble Fellow and member at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She has been a Fellow at the Harvard-Radcliffe Institute and a Visiting Professor at the Miller Institute at UC Berkeley.
Özel is widely recognized for her contributions to the field of neutron stars, black holes, and magnetars. She is a collaborator of Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) that released the first image of a black hole.Özel received the Maria Goeppert Mayer award from the American Physical Society in 2013 for her outstanding contributions to neutron star astrophysics. Özel has appeared on numerous TV documentaries including Big Ideas on PBS and the Universe series in the History Channel.Goeppert-Mayer (crater)
Goeppert-Mayer is a crater on the planet Venus. It is 35 kilometers (22 mi) in diameter and lies above an escarpment at the edge of a ridge belt in Southern Ishtar Terra. West of the crater the scarp has more than one kilometer (0.6 miles) of relief.J. Hans D. Jensen
Johannes Hans Daniel Jensen (25 June 1907 – 11 February 1973) was a German nuclear physicist. During World War II, he worked on the German nuclear energy project, known as the Uranium Club, in which he made contributions to the separation of uranium isotopes. After the war Jensen was a professor at the University of Heidelberg. He was a visiting professor at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, the Institute for Advanced Study, University of California, Berkeley, Indiana University, and the California Institute of Technology.Jensen shared half of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics with Maria Goeppert-Mayer for their proposal of the nuclear shell model.Janet Conrad
Janet M. Conrad is an American experimental physicist, researcher, and professor at MIT studying elementary particle physics.
Her work focuses on neutrino properties and the techniques for studying them.
In recognition of her efforts, Conrad has been the recipient of several highly prestigious awards during her career, including an Alfred P. Sloan Research Fellow, a Guggenheim Fellow, and the American Physical Society Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award.Joseph Edward Mayer
Joseph Edward Mayer (February 5, 1904, New York City – October 15, 1983) was a chemist who has formulated the Mayer expansion in statistical field theory.He was professor of chemistry at the University of California San Diego from 1960 to 1972, and previously at Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University and the University of Chicago. He was married to Nobel Prize-winning physicist Maria Goeppert Mayer from 1930 until her death in 1972. He went to work with James Franck in Göttingen, Germany in 1929, where he met Maria, a student of Max Born. Joseph Mayer was president of the American Physical Society from 1973 to 1975.Judith Young (astronomer)
Judith (Rubin) Young (September 15, 1952 – May 23, 2014) was an American physicist, astronomer, and educator. The American Physical Society honored Young with the first Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award for being the best young physicist in the world in 1986. Astronomer Nick Scoville of CalTech writes of her research: "Her pioneering galactic structure research included some of the earliest mapping of CO emission in galaxies followed by the most extensive surveys molecular gas and star formation in nearby galaxies."Ma Chung-pei
Ma Chung-pei (Chinese: 馬中珮; pinyin: Mǎ Zhōngpèi) is a Taiwanese-American astrophysicist and cosmologist. She is the Judy Chandler Webb Professor of Astronomy and Physics at the University of California, Berkeley. She led the teams that discovered several of largest known black holes from 2011 to 2016.Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award
The Maria Goeppert-Mayer Award is an annual prize presented by the American Physical Society in recognition of an outstanding contribution to physics research by a woman. It recognizes and enhances outstanding achievements by women physicists in the early years of their careers.The prize has been awarded since 1986 and is named after Maria Goeppert-Mayer, Nobel laureate in 1963 with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Paul Wigner. Goeppert-Mayer and Jensen were awarded their prize "for their discovery of the nuclear shell structure".
Goeppert-Mayer was the second woman to receive a Nobel prize in physics after Marie Curie.Padma Raghavan
Padma Raghavan is a computer scientist who works as vice provost for research at Vanderbilt University.
Raghavan graduated in 1985 from the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur.
She earned her Ph.D. from Pennsylvania State University in 1991, with a dissertation on parallel algorithms for matrix decomposition supervised by Alex Pothen. She worked at the University of Tennessee and Oak Ridge National Laboratory, then returned as a faculty member to Penn State in 2000. At Penn State, she became a distinguished professor of computer science and engineering, associate vice president for research, and director of strategic initiatives. She moved to Vanderbilt as vice provost in 2016.In 2002, Raghavan won a Maria Goeppert Mayer Distinguished Scholar award, funding her to visit Argonne National Laboratory. She was a Computing Research Association CRA-W Distinguished Lecturer in 2010. She became a fellow of the IEEE in 2013.Raghavan's husband, mathematician Steve Simpson, moved with her from Penn State to Vanderbilt.Réka Albert
Réka Albert (born 2 March 1972) is a Romanian-born Hungarian scientist. She is professor of physics and adjunct professor of biology at Pennsylvania State University and is noted for the Barabási–Albert model and research into scale-free networks and Boolean modeling of biological systems.Vicky Kalogera
Vassiliki Kalogera is a Greek astrophysicist. She is a professor at Northwestern University and the Director of the Center for Interdisciplinary Exploration and Research in Astrophysics (CIERA). She is a leading member of the LIGO Collaboration that observed gravitational waves in 2015.
Kalogera is a leading theorist in the study of gravitational waves, the emission of X-rays from compact binary objects and the coalescence of neutron-star binaries.Women in physics
This is a list of woman who have made an important contribution to the field of physics.