American scientist, Katharine Burr Blodgett is known for numerous important contributions to the field of industrial chemistry. She is mainly acknowledged for her invention of the color gauge and non-reflecting or “invisible” glass.
Early life, Education and Career:
Born in Schenectady, New York on January 10, 1898, Katharine or Katie (her nickname) was the second child of Katharine Burr and George Blodgett, a patent lawyer for the General Electric Company. Her father was killed only a few weeks before she was born. Her father’s death left more than sufficient amount of wealth to the family. After Katie’s birth, the family moved to New York City, then to France in 1901, and then back to New York City in 1912. Here she completed her schooling from the Rayson School and developed an early interest in mathematics. She completed high school at the age of fifteen and earned a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College and received her B.A. degree in 1917. Her interest in physics began when she attended college. After college, Blodgett decided that a career in scientific research would allow her to further pursue her interest in both mathematics and physics. During her vacations, Katie traveled to upstate New York in search of employment opportunities at the Schenectady GE plant. Some of her father’s former colleagues in Schenectady introduced Katie to research chemist Irving Langmuir. While showing his laboratory, Irving Lengmuir recognized Katie’s aptitude and advised her to continue her scientific education. Following his advice she went on to pursue master’s degree in science and was the first woman to be ever awarded a doctorate in physics from Cambridge University.
After her masters she became the first woman to be hired as a scientist at GE. Langmuir encouraged her to participate in some of his earlier discoveries. First, he put her on the task of perfecting tungsten filaments in electric lamps (the work for which he had received a patent in 1916). He later asked Katie to concentrate her studies on surface chemistry. Her most important contribution came from her independent research on an oily substance that Langmuir had developed in the lab. The then existing methods for measuring this unusual substance, were only accurate to a few thousandths of an inch but Katie’s way proved to be accurate to about one millionth of an inch. Her new discovery of measuring transparent objects led to her invention of non-reflecting glass in 1938. This invisible glass proved to be a very effective device for physicists, chemists, and metallurgists. It has been put to use in many consumer products from picture frames to camera lenses and has also been exceptionally helpful in optics.
During the Second World War Katie made another outstanding breakthrough: the smoke screens. The smoke screens saved many lives by covering the troops thereby protecting them from the exposure of toxic smoke.
Katie’s work was acknowledged by many awards, including the Garvan Medal in 1951. She earned honorary degrees from Elmira College in 1939, Brown University in 1942, Western College in1942, and Russell Sage College in 1944. She was nominated to be part of the American Physical Society and was a member of the Optical Society of America.
Katharine Burr Blodgett died in her home on October 12, 1979.