3 Essential Household Items Made By Katharine Burr Blodgett

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A woman who you’ve likely never heard of is the reason for the eyeglasses, computer screens, and car shields we use today and, in honor of Women’s History Month, we’d like to change that. 

Katharine Burr Blodgett’s arguably biggest achievement was that she invented non-reflective glass, but it cannot be understated that the woman was the first to do many things. For one, she was the first woman to be awarded a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge (doing so in 1926). She was also the first woman to work as a scientist for General Electric Laboratory in Schenectady, New York.

Blodgett’s work on the world's first truly invisible glass, which stemmed from furthering the idea that “a single water-surface monolayer could be transferred to a solid substrate” as per Invent.org, is the reason we’re able to have non-reflective surfaces with no distortion from reflected light on equipment like telescopes, microscopes, camera and projector lenses, and more. But it’s truly fascinating to see how she got there because, in a sense, it was in her blood all along.

The physicist and chemist’s father had been a patent attorney at General Electric before he died, prior to Blodgett being born. After getting her bachelor of arts degree from Bryn Mawr in 1917, Blodgett pursued scientific research and enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1918, where she studied the chemical structure of gas masks. In a truly full circle moment, Blodgett was then hired by GE as a research scientist in 1920 after finishing her masters.

She went on to enroll in a physics Ph.D. program at Sir Ernest Rutherford's Cavendish Laboratory — the Department of Physics at the University of Cambridge — and penned her dissertation on the behavior of electrons in ionized mercury vapor. While researching at GE, she worked alongside Irving Langmuir, a former colleague of her father’s and future Nobel Prize laureate. She studied monomolecular coatings designed to cover surfaces of water, metal, or glass, and, with Langmuir, she’d craft the method to stack these coatings and create the invisible glass she’s now known for. It is aptly called the Langmuir-Blodgett film. 

As though that wasn’t fantastic enough, Blodgett also helped develop “a better smoke screen where only two quarts of oil could be vaporized to cover several acres” and “a device to measure humidity rapidly as weather balloons ascended into the upper atmosphere,” as per the Edison Tech Center.

Blodgett has been honored for her achievements in science. In 1951, she became the first industrial scientist to be awarded the American Chemical Society's Garvan Medal. She also received honorary doctorates of science from Elmira College in 1939, Brown University in 1942, Western College in 1942, and Russell Sage College in 1944. 

The Bottom Line 

The next time you put on your glasses, turn on a computer screen, or look out your car shield, remember to give a special nod to Blodgett. Her scientific achievements are worth celebrating every day, but especially during Women’s History Month. Blodgett retired from the General Electric Company in 1963, died in her home on October 12, 1979, at the age of 81, but her legacy will never be forgotten.

Tags: Groundbreaking Women, Women's History, Women's History Month, KNOWHERNAME

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Written By

Rose Low

Rose Low is a writer based in New York, with a background in social media strategy and reporting. She has a Masters from NYU and a love for romantic comedies. See Full Bio

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