Happy birthday, Maria Goeppert Mayer! She earned a share of the 1963 +Nobel Prize
in Physics for work on the atomic nucleus, making her the second female to win the award (can you guess who the first was?)!
Born in 1906, Goeppert Mayer began studying mathematics at the University of Göttingen in 1924 where she shortly thereafter became interested in #physics
and chose to pursue a Ph.D. Her doctoral thesis focused on the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms, and was described by physicist, Eugene Wigner, as “a masterpiece of clarity and concreteness”. Her theory was finally verified after the invention of the laser in 1961. To honour her fundamental contribution to this area, this phenomenon was named the Goeppert-Mayer unit.
In the 1940s, Goeppert Mayer developed the mathematical model for the structure of #nuclear
shells, with input from Wigner. In addition to explaining why certain numbers of nucleons in an atomic nucleus result in particularly stable configurations, she postulated that the nucleus is a series of closed shells and pairs of neutrons and protons tend to couple together. This model was also independently conceived by three scientists, Otto Haxel, J. Hans D. Jensen, and Hans Suess, who later collaborated with Goeppert Mayer on the topic. For this discovery concerning nuclear shell structure, Goeppert Mayer, Jensen, and Wigner shared the 1963 Nobel Prize in Physics.
This nuclear shell model has since evolved, but it laid an important foundation for how we currently understand the behaviour and structure of the atomic nucleus.