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Maria Goeppert Mayer (1906-1972)

Photo A2; portrait.
CREDIT: Photo by Louise Barker,
courtesy AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives

While lecturing at such prestigious universities as Johns Hopkins, Columbia, and Chicago, Goeppert Mayer published numerous papers on quantum mechanics and chemical physics, and collaborated on a landmark textbook with her husband, the physical chemist Joseph Mayer. Despite her accomplishments, anti-nepotism rules forbade her from receiving an official appointment--only Joseph was employed, and for thirty years she taught university physics as an unpaid volunteer.

Photo G6; with daughter.
CREDIT: AIP Emilio Segrè
Visual Archives.

In 1959, four years before receiving the Nobel Prize for her work on the structure of atomic nuclei, she was finally offered a paid, full-time position by the University of California at San Diego. An avid chain smoker, Goeppert Mayer is perhaps best remembered by students for her ability to continually exchange cigarette and chalk between hands while lecturing without ever confusing the two.

More about her at the "Contributions of 20th Century Women to Physics" site

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