On This Day… Katharine Burr Blodgett

Katharine Burr Blodgett (January 10, 1898 – October 12, 1979) was an American physicist and chemist known for her work in surface chemistry, particularly for the invention of “invisible” or non-reflective glass. She was the first woman to receive a doctorate in physics from the University of Cambridge in 1926. Her research work was leveraged within the General Electric Company.

She promoted women’s solidarity by helping other women within Zonta Club, a club of professional women very popular in America.

She was the first woman to work as a scientist for General Electric Laboratory in Schenectady, NY, following her father’s tradition. She worked with Irving Langmuir, an American chemist and physicist, laureate of the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. He was impressed with Blodgett’s skill and dedication and hired her as his assistant, being the first woman in such a position.

 During the Second World War Blodgett made another innovation: the smoke screens, based on the adsorption of gases on charcoal. This knowledge helped her invent gas masks that saved many lives during World War II. The smoke screens saved many lives by covering the troops thereby protecting them from exposure to toxic smoke.

Blodgett received a lot of awards during her lifetime. She was recognized as one of the 1,000 most distinguished scientists in the United States and received a star in the seventh edition of American Men of Science (1943). In 1945, the American Association of University Women awarded her with its Annual Achievement Award.

In 1951, she was chosen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of 15 “women of achievement” and she was honored in Boston’s First Assembly of American Women in Achievement (the only scientist in the group). Later on, after her death, in 2007 she was included in the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Blodgett was not married, but she was involved in a so-called ”Boston marriage”, a social partnership with another woman. She loved gardening and theater, acting in plays with the Schenectady Civic Players. She had a home on Lake George in the Adirondack Mountains. She was an active conservationist along with Irving Langmuir and their contemporaries at the Research Lab.

Photo: Wikipedia

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