Katherine J. Blodgett

Were it not for the contributions of Katherine J. Blodgett, Poindexter would not be able to see so well. In addition, the world of Poindexters.com would be nowhere near what it is today. In fact, Katherine J. Blodgett is responsible for the way we all view the world. Without the research that she and Irving Langmuir pioneered in the 1920's and 30's, we would see things in an entirely different light.   Born in 1898, Katherine Blodgett was raised solely by her mother. She spent much of her youth in France and Germany, and thus her education was not a "traditional" one. Her experiences abroad are thought to have contributed to her admission to Bryn Mawr College, where she received her B.A. in 1917. Afterward, she attended the University of Chicago, where she earned a Masters of Science in 1918.   At a mere 19 years of age, Katherine Blodgett received a job at General Electric in Schenectady, New York. Not only was she quite young for such a post, but also she was the first female scientist ever hired by G.E. There, she assisted Nobel Laureate Irving Langmuir in research concerning monomolecular coatings. These coatings are single molecule oily films, which cover the surface of water, glass, or metal. They are so thin that 35,000 layers of these films, one atop the other, are the thickness of a single piece of paper.   In 1924, Ms. Blodgett left General Electric to attend Cambridge University, where, in 1926, she became the first woman to receive a Ph.D. in Physics from that esteemed establishment. Upon completion of her studies, she returned to G.E. where she continued her research on monomolecular coatings. She then discovered how to add these films, one on top of the other, to reduce the glare and distortion in glass, resulting in the first ever "invisible, non-reflecting glass". Even the clearest glass reflects 8-10% of the light shining on it. This is why, when viewed straight on, it is visible to the human eye. By mechanically assembling these layers on a water surface and then compressing them, a film was created which could be transferred to a solid surface. This discovery has proved quite useful in any product that uses glass lenses, such as eyeglasses and microscopes (like Poindexter's), cameras, televisions, and computer screens.   During WWI and WWII, Blodggett's research was of great consequence. She pioneered methods of de-icing aircraft wings, poison gas absorption, and improved smokescreens. As well, of course, the Langmuir-Blodgett films had a wide range of wartime uses, including periscopes, binoculars, range finders, and telescopes, all of which are still in use.   Blodgett's contributions to science are still pertinent today. Molecular coatings on surfaces is now a field used in Physics, Applied Physics, Chemistry, Surface Science, Biology, and Medicine.   As you can see, the world as we know it would be a completely different place without the contributions of Katherine J. Blodgett. Her pioneering spirit and thirst for knowledge have provided us with much of the technology we use. The computer screen through which you are viewing this article, the glasses you might be wearing, the television you watch, or the movie, DLP, LCD or CRT projector through which the next film you see is projected, are all possible because of her efforts.  

Honors

American Association of University Women's Annual Achievement Award, 1945 Francis P. Garvan Medal, American Chemical Society, for work on monomolecular films, 1951. First industrial scientist to win this medal. 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 Honorary Doctorates from Elmira College (1939), Brown University (1942) Western College (1942), and Russell Sage College (1944)