Field of Science

Nuisance or Nobel?

Bryn Mawr's Center for Science in Society hosted a discussion of gender and science earlier today. Al Albano showed a short clip from Nova on Naomi Halas, who got her Ph.D. in physics at Bryn Mawr. Have things changed? Are women generally seen as potential Nobel laurates, or nuisances? Certainly they are better than in Goeppert Mayers's day!

Maria Goeppert Mayer is one of the few women to have won the Nobel prize in physics or chemistry (trivia question - who are the others?). She was cited for her work on the structure of the nucleus. Though she received her Ph.D. from the University of Goettingen in 1930 and worked on the Manhattan Project during World War II, her first full time paid position was at the University of Californai at San Diego in 1960! She had often worked at the same institution as her husband (a chemist), and hiring rules at the time forbade spouses from having faculty positions at the same place. At the beginning of her career, many places considered her a "nuisance". Her early work in chemical physics was with Herzfeld on the colors of organic molecules (see my earlier post on Cheetos, flamingos and quantum chemistry).

Winning the prize wasn't half as exciting as doing the work itself.

Maria Goeppert Mayer
Nobel Prize winner in physics (1963)

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