Katharine Burr Blodgett

Katharine Burr Blodgett (January 10, 1898 – October 12, 1979)[2] was an American physicist and chemist known for her work on surface chemistry, in particular her invention of "invisible" or nonreflective glass while working at General Electric. She was the first woman to be awarded a PhD in physics from the University of Cambridge, in 1926.[3]

Katharine Burr Blodgett
Blodgett demonstrating equipment in lab, 1938[1]
Born(1898-01-10)January 10, 1898
DiedOctober 12, 1979(1979-10-12) (aged 81)
Schenectady, New York, U.S.
  • Physicist
  • inventor
  • chemist
EmployerGeneral Electric
Known for
RelativesKatharine Blodgett Gebbie (niece)
AwardsGarvan–Olin Medal (1951)

Early life edit

Blodgett was born on January 10, 1898, in Schenectady, New York. She was the second child of Katharine Buchanan (Burr) and George Reddington Blodgett. Her father was a patent attorney at General Electric where he headed that department. He was shot and killed in his home by a burglar just before she was born. GE offered a $5,000 reward for the arrest and conviction of the killer,[4] but the suspected killer hanged himself in his jail cell in Salem, New York.[5] Her mother was financially secure after her husband's death,[citation needed] and she moved to New York City with Katharine and her son George Jr. shortly after Katharine's birth.

In 1901, Katharine's mother moved the family to France so that the children would be bilingual. They lived there for several years, returned to New York for a year, during which time Katharine attended school in Saranac Lake, then spent time traveling through Germany.[6] In 1912, Blodgett returned to New York City with her family and attended New York City's Rayson School.

Education edit

Blodgett's early childhood was split between New York and Europe, and she wasn't enrolled in school until she was eight years old.[7] After attending Rayson School in New York City, she entered Bryn Mawr College on a scholarship, where she was inspired by two professors in particular: mathematician Charlotte Angas Scott and physicist James Barnes.[7]

In 1917, Irving Langmuir, a former colleague of her father and future Nobel Prize laureate, took Katharine on a tour of General Electric (GE)'s research laboratories. He offered her a research position at GE if she first completed higher education, so she enrolled in a master's degree program at the University of Chicago after receiving her bachelor's degree.[7]

At the University of Chicago she studied gas adsorption with Harvey B. Lemon,[7] researching the chemical structure of gas masks.[6] She graduated in 1918 and took a research scientist position working with Langmuir. After six years at the company, Blodgett decided to pursue a doctoral degree with hopes of advancing further within GE. Langmuir arranged for her to study physics at Cambridge University, at the Cavendish Laboratory persuading somewhat reluctant administrators to offer one of their few positions to a woman.[6] She was enrolled at Newnham College, matriculating in 1924.[8] She studied with Sir Ernest Rutherford and in 1926 became the first woman to receive a PhD in physics from Cambridge University.[7]

Work at General Electric edit

Blodgett was hired by the company General Electric as a research scientist in 1918 after receiving a master's degree from the University of Chicago.[9] She was the first woman to work as a scientist for General Electric Laboratory in Schenectady, NY. She often worked with Irving Langmuir, who had pioneered a technique for creating single-molecule thin films on the surface of water. Blodgett and Langmuir explored the application of similar techniques to lipids, polymers, and proteins, creating monomolecular coatings designed to cover surfaces of water, metal, or glass. These special coatings were oily and could be deposited in layers only a few nanometers thick.[10]

In 1935, Blodgett extended Langmuir's work by devising a method to spread monomolecular coatings one at a time onto glass or metal. By repeatedly dipping a metal plate into water covered by a layer of oil, she was able to stack oil layers onto the plate with molecular precision. The apparatus which she used and refined is known as the Langmuir–Blodgett trough.[11][12]

Using this technique, Blodgett developed practical uses for Langmuir's gossamer films. Blodgett used a barium stearate film to cover glass with 44 monomolecular layers, making the glass more than 99% transmissive and creating "invisible" glass. The visible light reflected by the layers of film canceled the reflections created by the glass.[10] This type of nonreflective coating is now called Langmuir–Blodgett film and is widely used.[13][14] The first major cinematic production to use Blodgett's invisible glass was the popular film Gone with the Wind (1939), noted for its crystal-clear cinematography. Once introduced, nonreflective lenses were used for projectors and cameras by the post-war movie industry.[15] Blodgett's glass was also used for submarine periscopes and airplane spy cameras during World War II.[10]

Blodgett also invented the color gauge, a method to measure the molecular coatings on the glass to one millionth of an inch. The gauge employs the concept that different thicknesses of coatings are different colors. While examining the layering of stearic acid on a glass plate, she realized that the addition of each layer, about 2/10,000,000 inch thick, reliably changed the color of the plate. Before her invention, the best measurement instruments were only accurate to a few thousandths of an inch. Her glass "ruler" much more precisely showed the progression of colors and their corresponding thicknesses. Measuring thickness became as simple as matching colors.[16]

Blodgett and Langmuir also worked on improvements to the light bulb. Their studies on electrical discharges in gases helped lay the foundations for plasma physics.[17]

Blodgett was issued eight U.S. patents during her career. She was the sole inventor on all but two of the patents, working with Vincent J. Schaefer as co-inventor. Blodgett published over 30 technical papers in various scientific journals and was the inventor of poison gas adsorbents, methods for deicing aircraft wings, and improving smokescreens.[10]

Personal life edit

Living her entire adult life in Schenectady, Blodgett was an active community member and indulged in various hobbies. She was known for her contributions to civic affairs, including roles in the Travelers Aid Society and the General Electric employee's club. Her interests spanned gardening, astronomy, and antiquing. Even after retiring in 1963, Blodgett continued her horticultural experiments, demonstrating her lifelong commitment to exploration and discovery. She passed away on October 12, 1979, leaving behind a legacy of innovation, resilience, and breaking barriers for women in science and engineering. (Encyclopedia.com, 2023.)

Blodgett's niece and namesake was astrophysicist and civil servant Katharine Blodgett Gebbie. In an autobiographical memoir,[18] Gebbie recalled that on family visits her Aunt Blodgett:

"always arrived with suitcases full of 'apparatus', with which she showed us such wonders as how to make colors by dipping glass rods into thin films of oil floating on water."

Gebbie often spoke in later life of her aunt's influence by personal example on her choice of a career in science.

Blodgett bought a home in Schenectady overlooking her birthplace where she spent most of her adult life. She was an actress in her town's theater group and volunteered for civic and charitable organizations. Blodgett was the treasurer of the Traveler's Aid Society there. She spent summers at a camp at Lake George in upstate New York, to pursue her love of gardening. Blodgett was also an avid amateur astronomer; she collected antiques, played bridge with friends [13] and wrote funny poems in her spare time.[citation needed] She died in her home on October 12, 1979.

Awards edit

Blodgett received numerous awards during her lifetime. She received a star in the seventh edition of American Men of Science (1943), recognizing her as one of the 1,000 most distinguished scientists in the United States.[19] In 1945, the American Association of University Women honored her with its Annual Achievement Award.[19]

In 1951 she received the prestigious Francis Garvan Medal from the American Chemical Society for her work on monomolecular films. That same year, she was chosen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of 15 "women of achievement." Also in 1951, she was honored in Boston's First Assembly of American Women in Achievement (the only scientist in the group)[6] and the mayor of Schenectady honored her with Katharine Blodgett Day on June 13, 1951, because of all the honor she had brought to her community.

In 1972, the Photographic Society of America presented her with its Annual Achievement Award[7] and in 2007 she was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame.[20] In 2008 an elementary school in Schenectady was opened bearing her name.

She received honorary doctorates from Elmira College (1939), Western College (1942), Brown University (1942), and Russell Sage College (1944).[7]

Blodgett's accomplishments were widely recognized, earning her several prestigious awards. In 1945, she received the Achievement Award from the American Association of University Women, and in 1951, she was honored with the Garvan-Olin Medal by the American Chemical Society. Additionally, she was inducted into the US Chamber of Commerce's list of 15 women of achievement in the same year. These accolades were a testament to her groundbreaking work as a scientist and her role as a trailblazer for women in the field. (Who was Katharine Burr Blodgett?) (Encyclopedia.com, 2023.)

Patents edit

See also edit

References edit

  1. ^ "Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898–1979), demonstrating equipment in lab". Smithsonian Institution Archives. Smithsonian Institution. Retrieved July 11, 2013.
  2. ^ Schafer, Elizabeth D. "Blodgett, Katharine Burr (1898–1979)". Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia. Gale – via Encyclopedia.com.
  3. ^ "Obituary: Katharine Burr Blodgett". Physics Today. 33 (3): 107. March 1980. Bibcode:1980PhT....33c.107.. doi:10.1063/1.2913969.
  4. ^ "Timeline of Schenectady History". The Schenectady County Historical Society. Archived from the original on September 29, 2011. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  5. ^ Covington, Edward J. "Katharine B. Blodgett". ejcov. FrogNet.Net. Archived from the original on November 21, 2013. Retrieved July 10, 2013.
  6. ^ a b c d Notable women scientists. Proffitt, Pamela. Detroit: Gale Group. 1999. ISBN 978-0787639006. OCLC 41628188.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b c d e f g Ogilvie, Marilyn Bailey; Harvey, Joy Dorothy, eds. (2000). The biographical dictionary of women in science : pioneering lives from ancient times to the mid-20th century. New York: Routledge. ISBN 978-0415920391. OCLC 40776839.
  8. ^ Newnham College student records, accessed January 10, 2019
  9. ^ W., Rossiter, Margaret (1982). Women scientists in America : struggles and strategies to 1940. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0801825095. OCLC 8052928.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c d Roberts, Jacob (Spring 2014). "The Invisible Woman". Chemical Heritage Magazine. 32 (1): 7. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  11. ^ Blodgett, Katharine B. (1935). "Films built by depositing successive monomolecular layers on a solid surface". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 57 (6): 1007–1022. doi:10.1021/ja01309a011.
  12. ^ Blodgett, Katharine B. (1934). "Monomolecular films of fatty acids on glass". Journal of the American Chemical Society. 56 (2): 495. doi:10.1021/ja01317a513.
  13. ^ a b Venezia, Jessica. "Katharine Burr Blodgett: An Innovative, Accomplished Schenectady Native". The Free George. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  14. ^ "SHE INSPIRES Katharine Burr Blodgett". pbs. January 10, 2019.
  15. ^ Pollard, J. (November 1, 2014). "The Eccentric Engineer". Engineering & Technology. 9 (10): 94. doi:10.1049/et.2014.1035. ISSN 1750-9637.
  16. ^ "Blodgett, Katharine". Facts on File. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved October 15, 2014.
  17. ^ "Irving Langmuir and Katharine Burr Blodgett". Science History Institute. June 2016. Retrieved March 21, 2018.
  18. ^ Whitten, Barbara L. (2001). "An Interview with Katharine Gebbie" (PDF). CSWP Gazette. 20 (2): 1.
  19. ^ a b Joan., Siegel, Patricia (1985). Women in the scientific search : an American bio-bibliography, 1724–1979. Finley, K. Thomas (Kay Thomas). Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press. ISBN 978-0810817555. OCLC 11236036.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  20. ^ "Spotlight | National Inventors Hall of Fame". Invent.org. November 21, 2013. Archived from the original on August 14, 2016. Retrieved May 29, 2016.

Further reading edit