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Chemical Physics

Picture of Katharine Blodgett

Katharine Burr Blodgett

1898 - 1979
Additional Information

Some Important Contributions:

  • "Films Built by Depositing Successive Monomolecular Layers on a Solid Surface," Journal of the American Chemical Society 57: 1007 (1935).
First observation that monomolecular layers of soaps could be deposited on metallic surfaces, and that successive layers could be added, layer by layer. Molecular coatings on surfaces is an entire field today; important in physics and applied physics, chemistry, surface science, biology, and medicine.

  • "Built-Up Films of Barium Stearate and Their Optical Properties," Physical Review 51: 964 (1937), with I. Langmuir.
Observation that layer by layer deposits of barium-copper stearates could be built up, forming a solid film with a well-defined thickness. This allowed measurement of the optical properties of the films.

  • "Use of Interference to Extinguish Reflection of Light from Glass," Physical Review 55: 391 (1939).
Use of interference to extinguish reflections from glass. This utilized her previous experience building films of known thickness, such that reflected rays were greatly diminished by interference. This started the entire field of optical coatings, which are now used universally on eyeglasses, camera lenses, TVs, computer monitors, etc.


Starred in 1943 edition of American Men of Science.

American Association of University Women's Annual Achievement Award 1945

Francis P. Garvan Medal, American Chemical Society; for work on monomolecular films 1951

Only scientist honored in Boston's First Assembly of American Women in Achievement 1951

Chosen by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce as one of the 15 "women of achievement" 1951

Progress Medal of the Photographic Society of America 1972

Fellow, American Physical Society

Honorary Doctorates from Elmira College (1939), Brown University (1942), Western College (1942), Russell Sage College (1944).


1918-24 Research Scientist, General Electric Company, Schenectady, N.Y.
1926-63 ibid.


B.A. Bryn Mawr College 1917
M.S. University of Chicago 1918
Ph.D. Cambridge University 1926


[12 GKS], [33C LSG], [39E CBY], [51 MJB]

Additional Information/Comments

First woman to receive a Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University.

First woman to work in a General Electric laboratory.

First industrial scientist to win the Garvan Medal.

Long-time collaborator, Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir, described Blodgett as a "gifted experimenter" with a "rare combination of theoretical and practical ability."

Author of six U.S. patents relating to thin film deposits.

Despite a long and outstanding career at General Electric, Blodgett's name was not mentioned in a 1953 Science article on 75 years of research at G.E. laboratories.

Blodgett made many important contributions to war research (many unpublished) during both world wars. Her contributions included: poison gas absorbents; methods for de-icing aircraft wings; and improved smokescreens.

Field Editor: Professor Gary Williams


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latest revision {4/30/97 mjw} 3/16/01 nb