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Nuclear Physics

Picture of Gertrude Goldhaber

Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber

1911 - 1998
Additional Information

Some Important Contributions:

Discovered that neutrons are emitted in spontaneous fission.

With her husband, Maurice Goldhaber, confirmed the identity of beta rays with atomic electrons by showing that the Pauli exclusion principle operates in states of a constituent beta ray particle and an atomic electron.

Worked in both experimental and theoretical research. Pioneered various developments in nuclear structure studies, such as: systematics of excited states in even-even nuclei; long lived isomers, some of which exhibit K-forbiddeness; variable moment of inertia model, relation of moment of inertia to quadrupole moment, and pseudomagic nuclei.

Some Important Publications:

"Spontaneous Emission of Neutrons from Uranium," Phys. Rev. 70: 229 (1946). [This paper was received for publication on May 18, 1942 but was voluntarily withheld from publication until the end of the war.]

"Identification of Beta Rays with Atomic Electrons," Phys. Rev. 73: 1472 (1948).

"Excited States of Even-Even Nuclei," Phys. Rev. 90: 587 (1953).

"System of Even-Even Nuclei," Phys. Rev. 98: 212 (1955).

"Highly Forbidden E1 Transition ("K-Isomerism")," BAPS Ser. II 1: 206 (1956).

"Triple Isomerism in Ir192," Phys. Rev. Letters 3: 47 (1959).

"Mass Difference of K40 - Ar40," Phys. Rev. 165: 4, 1184 (1968).

"High Spin Isomer Ir194m2 Produced by Triple Neutron Capture," Phys. Rev. Letters 21: 237 (1968).

"Phenomenological Analysis of Ground State Bands in Even-Even Nuclei," Phys. Rev. 178: 1864 (1969).

"The Variable Moment of Inertia (VMI) Model and Theories of Nuclear Collective Motion," Annual Review of Nuclear Science 26: 239 (1976).

"Isomeric Nuclei," Encyclopedia of Physics. Edited by R. G. Lerner and G.L. Trigg. Dowden: Hutchinson & Ross, 1977.

"Pseudomagic Nuclei," J. Physics G: Nuclear Physics 5: L207-L211 (1979). Corrigenda 6: 413 (1980).


Fellow, American Physical Society (1947)

One of the few women invited to give a paper at the American Physical Society in the late 1950s.

Member, National Academy of Sciences

Fellow, American Association for the Advancement of Science

The Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS) established a Gertrude S. Goldhaber Prize (1992) to be awarded annually to a female graduate student in physics.

Boston University established a Gertrude and Maurice Goldhaber Prize for outstanding new graduate students in physics.

Harvard University established a Maurice and Gertrude Goldhaber Prize for outstanding graduate students in physics.


1935-39 Research Associate, Imperial College, London
1939-48 Research Physicist, University of Illinois
1948-50 Special Research Assistant Professor of Physics, University of Illinois
1948-50 Consultant, Argonne National Laboratory
1950-58 Associate Physicist, Brookhaven National Laboratory
1958-62 Physicist, Brookhaven National Laboratory
1962-79 Senior Physicist, Brookhaven National Laboratory (retired)
1980-82 Adjunct Professor, Cornell University
1982-86 Adjunct Professor, Johns Hopkins University


Ph.D. University of Munich 1935

Additional Information/Comments

When Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933, Goldhaber felt ostracized by many members of the Physics Institute at the University of Munich but she stayed and finished her dissertation with the support of her thesis advisor, Walther Gerlach. She then left Germany and conducted post-doctoral work with George P. Thomson at Imperial College in London.

The University of Illinois supplied Goldhaber with a laboratory and graduate students but refused to give her a paid staff position because her husband, Maurice Goldhaber, was a member of the faculty.

While working at the University of Illinois, Goldhaber discovered that neutrons are emitted in spontaneous fission. This discovery was deemed classified by the US government so her results were not published until 1946.

Goldhaber was the first woman with a Ph.D. to join Brookhaven' scientific staff.

In 1972, Goldhaber was only the third woman physicist elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Member, Advisory panel on the nuclear data project, National Research Council (1959-64)
Chair, Panel for Evaluation of Nuclear Data Compilations, National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council (1969-71)
Member, Board of Trustees, Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory (1972-77)
Member, Research Advisory Committee, National Science Foundation (1972-74)
Member, Nominating Committee for the Presidential Medal of Science (1977-79)

Throughout her career, Goldhaber has worked to promote physic education and the place of women in science. To further this goal, Goldhaber started a training course at Brookhaven in 1958 for pre-college science teachers. In addition, she started the Brookhaven Lecture Series in 1960 and sat on the National Research Council's Committee on the Education and Employment of Women in Science and Engineering. In 1979, she co-founded Brookhaven Women in Science (BWIS).

    "The vicious cycle which was originally created by the overt exclusion of women from mathematics and science must be broken... [I]t is of the utmost importance to give a girl at a very early age the conviction that girls are capable of becoming scientists."
-- Gertrude Scharff Goldhaber

Married to Maurice Goldhaber with whom she had two sons - Alfred and Michael.

Field Editor: Maurice Goldhaber


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