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Series: Women who changed the world - Maria Goeppert Mayer

“Mathematics began to seem too much like puzzle solving. Physics is puzzle solving, too, but of puzzles created by nature, not by the mind of man.” - Maria Goeppert Mayer

Maria Goeppert Mayer was hired by The University of California, San Diego in 1960, after a decade since discovering the nuclear shell model and thirty years after starting her career as a scientist. She became a full professor.

Once Maria Mayer mentioned her father’s words, which said, “Don’t grow up to be a woman,’ and what he meant by that was, a housewife.” She started doing physics for fun but soon realised her potential to discover something great. She worked without any salary or tenured position (mostly because of anti-nepotism rule) and was hired at the age of 58 but made crucial contributions to the expanding conception of nuclear physics, encompassing the revelatory nuclear shell model.

When she enrolled at the university, there were less female students and it's been stated: because girls didn't have many educational options. She received her doctorate in 1930 in theoretical physics. Meyer worked with her husband and published many scientific papers with Herzfeld. She developed an interest in becoming a chemical physicist and started to work on the colour of organic molecules. In the year 1948, she started to work with magic numbers and kept on studying that for a while.

And in the year 1963, she shared the Nobel Prize in Physics, making her the second women to win the prize after Marie Curie. Her findings, the "nuclear shell model," elucidates why the nuclei of some atoms are more stable than others and why some elements have many numerous atomic forms, called "isotopes," while others don't.

In the year 1972, Mayer died of a heart attack in San Diego, California. Mayer always encouraged young women to pursue careers in science. Every year, Argonne awards the Maria Goeppert Mayer Distinguished Scholar award to a distinguished woman scientist or engineer early in her career. Let's celebrate Maria Mayer for her unparalleled passion for studying physics and continuing her work till her death.

With thanks - this post was written by Vrinda Nair.

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