Nobel Women

Maria Goeppert-Mayer, goeppert mayer, Marie Goeppert-Mayer
Associated Press

Maria Goeppert-Mayer, 1963 Co-Winner of Nobel Prize in Physics

October 14, 2009
by findingDulcinea Staff
Physicist Maria Goeppert-Mayer predicted the existence of double photon absorption decades before it was observed, and shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963 for developing the “nuclear shell model.”

Goeppert-Mayer was born on June 28, 1906 in Germany, and studied physics at the University of Göttingen under Nobel laureate Max Born. In 1931, she wrote a groundbreaking thesis that examined the theory of double photon reactions, which would not be observed for more than 30 years.

She moved to the United States with her husband, chemist Joseph Mayer, and spent much of her early career working at U.S. universities for little or no money. In 1946, she got a job working at Argonne National Laboratory, where she would make her Nobel-winning discovery two years later.

She developed the “nuclear shell model,” which “explains why the nuclei of some atoms are more stable than others and why some elements have many different atomic forms, called ‘isotopes,’ while others do not,” according to the Argonne National Laboratory.

German physicist J. Hans Daniel Jensen independently reached the same conclusions at the same time as Goeppert-Mayer. The two later met, wrote a book together on the nuclear shell model and won the Nobel Prize for their work, sharing it with Eugene Wigner, whose work helped lead to the nuclear shell model.

For a complete autobiography, visit Maria Goeppert-Mayer’s page on the Nobel Foundation Web site.

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