Argonne Announces 2022 Maria Goeppert Mayer Fellows, Honoring Legacy of Nobel Laureate in Physics
Editor’s Note: This article originally appeared on Argonne National Laboratory’s website.
Maria Goeppert Mayer is one of four women to win the Nobel Prize in Physics. She was a pioneer in her field and a pioneer for women in science.
Its award is the result of nuclear physics research conducted at the Argonne National Laboratory of the US Department of Energy (DOE) from the 1940s. Today, on its 115e anniversary, Argonne announces the award of its 2022 Maria Goeppert Mayer scholarship to four exceptional doctoral students who are at the start of their promising careers.
In 1930, Mayer received his doctorate from the University of Göttingen in Germany. She first studied mathematics, but moved on to physics after attending a quantum physics seminar taught by physicist Max Born. Mayer described the emerging new field as “young and exciting.”
After earning his doctorate, Mayer married chemist Joseph Edward Mayer and the two moved to the United States.
Mayer faced significant challenges as a woman in physics. While her husband worked as an associate professor at Johns Hopkins University, regulations prohibited Mayer from working at the same university. Instead, she taught physics classes at Johns Hopkins without pay.
For 12 years, she worked alongside many of the most influential physicists of her time before landing her first paid part-time position at Sarah Lawrence College in 1941. With two children, she was one of the first women to to reconcile an incredibly successful career in physics with the responsibilities of marriage and motherhood, a feat almost unheard of at that time, and still a challenge today.
In 1946, Mayer and her husband moved to Chicago, where she worked as an associate professor of physics at the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago, again without pay. That same year, the University opened the doors of the Argonne National Laboratory, the first American national laboratory, which celebrated its 75e anniversary this year. Mayer immediately joined the new lab in a paid part-time position as a senior physicist in the theoretical physics division. It was in these two positions that Mayer began her work in nuclear physics for which she won the Nobel Prize.
It was known at the time that when nuclei contain a certain number of protons and neutrons, called magic numbers, they are extremely stable, and therefore abundant in the universe. To explain this phenomenon, Mayer and his colleague J. Hans D. Jensen theorized that a stable nucleus is like a series of closed shells.
For their work on this nuclear envelope model, Mayer and Jensen were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1963. His model remains a cornerstone of modern nuclear physics, paving the way for current research in nuclear physics.
Today, Argonne announced its 2022 Maria Goeppert Mayer Scholars; they are Nina Andrejevic, Shintaro Iwasaki, Tomas Polakovic and Leslie Rogers. They each show incredible promise in their fields, and they will work alongside some of Argonne’s most accomplished scientists to lead groundbreaking research for years to come.
“Congratulations to this year’s fellows following in the footsteps of Argonne Nobel Prize winner Maria Goeppert Mayer,” said Paul Kearns, director of the Argonne laboratory. “It is a privilege to engage with the next generation of great thinkers at Argonne. These fellows exemplify outstanding early career scientists who will open new frontiers for America’s energy future. I look forward to hearing from you. see their contributions to Argonne and its abilities.