June 28, 1906|
Kattowitz, German Empire
|Died||February 20, 1972
San Diego, California, United States
|Institutions||Los Alamos Laboratory
Argonne National Laboratory
University of California, San Diego
|Alma mater||University of Göttingen|
|Doctoral advisor||Max Born|
|Known for||Nuclear Shell Structure|
|Notable awards||Nobel Prize for Physics (1963)|
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 is the second female laureate in physics, after Marie Curie.
Maria Goeppert was born in Kattowitz, a city within the province of Silesia, Prussia. In 1910, she moved with her family to Göttingen when her father Friedrich was appointed as the professor of pediatrics at the University of Göttingen.
In 1924, Goeppert passed the abitur, which made her eligible to enroll in university. She enrolled at Göttingen in the fall. Her professors at Göttingen included three future Nobel prize winners: Max Born, James Franck and Adolf Otto Reinhold Windaus. Goeppert completed her Ph.D. in 1930. That same year, she wed Dr. Joseph Edward Mayer, one of James Franck's assistants. The couple later moved to Mayer's home country of the United States.
Goeppert-Mayer worked for several years at volunteer positions at the various universities where her husband was a professor, including Johns Hopkins University, Columbia University, and the University of Chicago. During this time, Goeppert-Mayer was unable to gain a professional appointment at Mayer's universities due in part to both sexism and strict rules against nepotism. However, she was able to find other opportunities, including a teaching position at Sarah Lawrence College, a research position with Columbia University's Substitute Alloy Materials Project and with the Opacity Project (an investigation of matter and radiation at high temperature, part of the development of the hydrogen bomb), and she also spent some time at the Los Alamos Laboratory.
During her husband's time at the University of Chicago, Goeppert-Mayer was able to become a voluntary Associate Professor of Physics at the school. In addition, when the nearby Argonne National Laboratory was founded on July 1, 1946, Goeppert-Mayer was offered a part-time job there as a Senior Physicist in the Theoretical Physics Division. It was during her time at Chicago and Argonne that she developed a mathematical model for the structure of nuclear shells, the work for which she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963, shared with J. Hans D. Jensen and Eugene Paul Wigner.
In 1960, Goeppert-Mayer was appointed to a position as a full Professor of Physics at the University of California at San Diego. Although she suffered from a stroke shortly after arriving there, she continued to teach and conduct research for a number of years.
Nuclear shell model 
Goeppert-Mayer's model explained why certain numbers of nucleons in an atomic nucleus result in particularly stable configurations. These numbers are called magic numbers. She postulated that the nucleus is a series of closed shells, and pairs of neutrons and protons tend to couple together in what is called spin orbit coupling. An analogy is the way the Earth turns on its axis while it simultaneously revolves around the Sun. Goeppert-Mayer 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 anti-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.—Maria Goeppert-Mayer, 
At the same time, there were German scientists working on solving the same problem. After their results were published, Goeppert-Mayer 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 and Jensen shared the Nobel Prize for Physics "...for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure." She was quoted as saying, "Winning the prize was half as exciting as doing the work."
Other notable work 
In her doctoral thesis in 1931, Goeppert-Mayer worked out the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. This was not confirmed experimentally until the development of the laser in the 1960s. To honor her fundamental contribution to this area, the unit for the two-photon absorption cross section is named the Goeppert-Mayer (GM) unit.
Death and legacy 
After her death, an award in her name was set up by the American Physical Society 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. Two of Goeppert-Mayer's former universities also honor her. The University of Chicago presents an award each year to an outstanding young woman scientist or engineer, and the University of California at San Diego hosts an annual Maria Goeppert-Mayer symposium, bringing together female researchers to discuss current science. Crater Goeppert-Mayer on Venus (diameter of about 35 km) is also named after Goeppert-Mayer.
See also 
Further reading 
- Opfell, Olga S. (1978). The Lady Laureates : Women Who Have Won the Nobel Prize. Metuchen,N.J. &London: Scarecrow Press. pp. 194–208. ISBN 0810811618.
- Ferry, Joseph (2003). Maria Goeppert Mayer. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers. ISBN 0791072479. OCLC 50730923.
Notes and references 
- "Maria had trouble convincing a Ph.D. program to admit a woman, so she bounced from school to school, taking lectures wherever she could...some [schools] even condescended to give her work, though they refused to pay her, and the topics were typically 'feminine', such as figuring out what causes colors ... the University of Chicago finally took her seriously enough to make her a professor of physics. Although she got her own office, the department still didn't pay her ... When the Swedish academy announced in 1963 that she had won her profession's highest honor, the San Diego newspaper greeted her big day with the headline 'S.D. Mother Wins Nobel Prize'." Kean, Sam (2010). The Disappearing Spoon and other true tales from the Periodic Table. Black Swan. pp. 27–28, 31. ISBN 978-0-552-77750-6.
- National Academy of Sciences, biographical memoir of Maria Goeppert Mayer, by Robert G. Sachs, 
- Sachs, Robert G. "Maria Goeppert Mayer", Biographical Memoirs 50 (National Academy of Sciences, 1979).
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Maria Goeppert-Mayer|
- Annotated Bibliography for Maria Goeppert-Mayer from the Alsos Digital Library for Nuclear Issues
- Biography and Bibliographic Resources, from the Office of Scientific and Technical Information, United States Department of Energy
- Maria Goeppert-Mayer
- discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure.
- National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir