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Maria Goeppert Mayer

Born: 6/28/1906
Birthplace: Katowice (then Germany, now Poland)

An accomplished physicist, Goeppert-Mayer made numerous contributions to the field of physics and was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for theoretical physics. Educated at the University of Goettingen, Germany, Mayer was initially attracted to math, but later shifted to physics. After her marriage in 1930, she left Germany for Johns Hopkins University, where her husband, Joseph E. Mayer, taught in the chemistry department. She received an assistantship in the physics department at Johns Hopkins. For most of her career, nepotism rules at universities where her husband worked prevented Meyer from holding full-time positions. During WWII, she worked on the Manhattan Project. In 1946, the Mayers moved to Chicago where, as a senior physicist at the newly formed Argonne National Laboratory, her interests turned to nuclear physics. She collaborated with Hans D. Jensen to publish Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure in 1955. In 1963, she and Jensen shared the Nobel Prize for their groundbreaking work in models of the nucleus of atoms. In 1960, the Mayers moved to the University of California, San Diego, where she was appointed professor of physics, her first full-time paid position.

Died: San Diego, Calif., 2/20/1972

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