Top Plasma Scientists I admire – Katharine Blodgett #Science

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Katharine Blogett; A Famous Plasma Physicist

Katharine Blur Blodgett was born January 10, 1898.  Her father was a patent attorney working for GE in Schenectady, NY.  She started working with GE as an assistant to Langmuir, one of the most famous plasma physicists from whom the name plasma derives.

I have several things in common with Blodgett.  The first being a PhD (or as Cambridge refer to it, a D Phil.) in ionized gases and second we both completed our studies in less than 3 years.  However, she did have the privilege of a MSc and a great job in GE after completion. Her thesis was directed at ionized gases, and she worked in plasma studies with Langmuir, but she is remembered most for her work in thin films.  The creation of atomic layers, one atom thick in a device which still carries her name and she was one of the first scientist to develop an anti-reflective coating.

500px-Katharine_Burr_Blodgett_(1898-1979),_demonstrating_equipment_in_lab
Blodgett demonstrating equipment in lab, 1938

I remember taking a tour of the new physics laboratory which had opened in Coleraine in 1968.  I was invited by a friend who was doing a PhD in Coleraine. That was 1969, and it ultimately lead to me entering a career in Physics 12 years later.  Coleraine was founded in 1968 as the New University of Ulster. The moto was to “to build anew” . It was later made part of the University of Ulster where a local wit suggested the motto should be changed to “to build anew, again“.

In a similar way Katherine visited, Langmuir, a former colleague of her father and future Nobel Prize laureate, who took Katherine on a tour of 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.

In 1926, she competed a PhD in the Cavendish laboratory in the UK.  She studied with Ernest Rutherford, and the lab was a little reluctant to take a women.  Fair play to Langmuir he pushed and she was accepted. Rutherford was a very ingenious scientist and was reported to have said that “the Americans have all the money, so we’ve got to think“.  This was the same Laboratory that split the atom a few years after Blogett had completed her thesis. The Irish connection was that one of the co-workers on that project was Earnest Walton, who was the only Irish national to ever get a Noble prize for Physics.

Blogett was the first women to get a physics PhD out of Cambridge.  Dr. 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.  She was the first scientist to be appointed at GE. She received  numerous awards during her lifetime including 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.  Of course, most important of all; she was a plasma expert and one of my heros!

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