Maria Goeppert-Mayer

GOEPPERT-MAYER, Maria Gertrude, née Goeppert, German/USA physicist, 1906-1972. During WW2, she was one of many physicists working on separation of radioisotopes in connection with the atomic bomb project. The Chair of a department at UCLA from 1960. Maria visualised atomic nuclei as shell-like layers of protons and neutrons with the most stable atoms having completely filled their outermost shells (results of her work from 1948 onwards). This study resulted from a theory of cosmic origin that she had co-developed with Teller in 1945 to explain element abundance in the universe. They called it Little Bang, as opposed to the current Big Bang. Then Maria she got interested in the stability of the atomic nucleus. Awarded a Nobel Prize in Physics for this view of the structure of the atomic nucleus, in 1963. With Jensen, (who shared the Nobel with her) Maria then wrote a book ‘Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure’.  An intriguing aspect of her professional career is that in the USA she worked for several universities on an unpaid basis. 10 years after her Nobel Prize award she finally received a paid full professorship, at U. of California.

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