Maria Goeppert Mayer

Maria Goeppert Mayer
(1906 - 1972)

German physicist who shared one-half of the 1963 Nobel Prize for Physics with J. Hans D. Jensen of West Germany for their proposal of the shell nuclear model. (The other half of the prize was awarded to Eugene P. Wigner of the United States for unrelated work.)
In 1930 Goeppert received her Ph.D. from the University of Gottingen. She married the American chemical physicist Joseph E. Mayer and went with him to Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. In 1939 she went to Columbia University, where she worked on the separation of uranium isotopes for the atomic bomb project, and in 1945 to the Institute for Nuclear Studies at the University of Chicago.

The great stability and abundance of nuclei that have a particular number of neutrons (such as 50, 82, or 126) and the same special number of protons was explained by Mayer in 1949 in terms of the shell nuclear model. This model explained the detailed properties of atomic nuclei in terms of a structure of shells occupied by the protons and neutrons. She and Jensen jointly wrote Elementary Theory of Nuclear Shell Structure (1955).

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