Maria Goeppert-Mayer, a theoretical physicist, won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for the shell model of the atomic nucleus. This piece shows her staring into the heart of a nucleus, contemplating how the spins of nucleons (protons and neutrons) and their orbits are coupled. As she described it,
“Think of a room full of waltzers. Suppose they go round the room in circles, each circle enclosed within another. Then imagine that in each circle, you can fit twice as many dancers by having one pair go clockwise and another pair go counterclockwise. Then add one more variation; all the dancers are spinning twirling round and round like tops as they circle the room, each pair both twirling and circling. But only some of those that go counterclockwise are twirling counterclockwise. The others are twirling clockwise while circling counterclockwise. The same is true of those that are dancing around clockwise: some twirl clockwise, others twirl counterclockwise.”
I became enchanted with the elegance of Goeppert-Mayer’s theory as an undergraduate. Today I admire the fact that she persevered despite battling years of sexism in a profession dominated by men. In both her generation and my own, studying physics often meant being the only woman in one’s classes and in one’s workplace. While rewarding, it could also be tremendously isolating and discouraging. Goeppert-Mayer is still the only woman other than Marie Curie to be awarded a physics Nobel.
Photoshop composite printed on cotton, batting, stitching.
Woman’s Groundbreaking Accomplishment
Maria Goeppert-Mayer, a theoretical physicist, won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for the shell model of the atomic nucleus.
Typography and images were composited in Photoshop. The resulting image was printed on cotton fabric, batted, and stitched.
Cotton fabric, batting, Madeira Polyneon thread