Maria Goeppert-Mayer
June 28, 1906 - February 21, 1972

Maria Goeppert was born in Kattowitz, Upper Silesia, then Germany, the only child of Friedrich Goeppert and his wife. Maria was named for her mother. When Maria was four her family moved to Göttingen where her father was a university professor. Maria went to private and public schools in Göttingen and enrolled at the University in the spring of 1924. Six years later she received her doctorate in theoretical physics.

Maria married physical chemist Joseph E. Mayer the same year she received her doctorate and together they moved to Baltimore, where Joe was a professor at Johns Hopkins. During that time it was hard for women to find jobs, but Maria continued to work as a volunteer physicist and wrote several papers and a textbook. She also gave birth to a daughter, Maria Ann. She was pregnant with her son, John when Joseph lost his job at John Hopkins in 1938 and took a new job at Columbia University. Once again, Maria worked as a physicist, but received no pay.

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During World War II Maria worked with Columbia scientists who helped develop the atom bomb. After the war, the Columbia physicists and the Mayers moved to Chicago to continue research at the Institute of Nuclear Studies. Maria's position remained unpaid and "voluntary."

Finally, one of Maria's former students at Johns Hopkins, Robert Sachs, brought her to Argonne at "a nice consulting salary." While Maria worked at Argonne, she learned most of her nuclear theory and in 1948 Maria developed an important theory that helped explain the nuclear structure. The following year, Maria collaborated with J. Hans Daniel Jensen and wrote an important article about nuclear theory that was published in 1955. Her work was recognized in 1963 when she became the second American woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first to win in physics. She shared the honor with Eugene Wigner and J. Hans Daniel Jensen. Even though Maria was not able to secure full-time work in her field until she was 53, she succeeded in the world of science and was recognized by other scientists as a physicist of Nobel stature.

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