Birth in 1906 of Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who developed the shell model of the nucleus and received a Nobel Prize in 1963. Because of anti-nepotism rules – she was married to another professor -- she spent decades teaching university physics as an unpaid volunteer, and did not receive an offer of paid full-time employment until 1959.
Maria Goeppert Mayer was born on June 28, 1906, in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then Germany, the only child of Friedrich Goeppert and his wife Maria, nee Wolff. On her father’s side, she is the seventh straight generation of university professors.
She was a Professor in the Physics Department and in the Institute for Nuclear Studies. She was also employed by the Argonne National Laboratory with very little knowledge of Nuclear Physics! It took her some time to find her way in this, for her, new field. But in the atmosphere of Chicago, it was rather easy to learn nuclear physics.
In 1948 she started to work on the magic numbers, but it took her another year to find their explanation, and several years to work out most of the consequences. The fact that Haxel, Jensen and Suess, whom she had never met, gave the same explanation at the same time helped to convince her that it was right.
The Nobel Prize in Physics 1963 was divided, one half awarded to Eugene Paul Wigner “for his contributions to the theory of the atomic nucleus and the elementary particles, particularly through the discovery and application of fundamental symmetry principles”,the other half jointly to Maria Goeppert-Mayer and J. Hans D. Jensen “for their discoveries concerning nuclear shell structure”.
Visit the official web site of the Nobel Foundation to read more about Maria Goeppert-Mayer and her Nobel Prize.
Excerpted with permission, www.nobelprize.org