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First, Marie Skłodowska Curie won in 1903 for her studies of radioactivity. She shared the prize with her husband, Pierre Curie, and with the other discoverer of radioactivity, Henri Bequerel.
Originally, the Nobel committee had only selected Pierre Curie — but he refused to accept the prize without proper acknowledgement of Marie’s contribution.
Then in 1911, Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery and studies of radium and polonium.
Maria Goeppert Mayer won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for her model of the structure of the atomic nucleus. Goeppert Mayer faced a great deal of gender bias in her career: she had to work in unpaid positions at Columbia University and University of Chicago, where her husband was employed.
However, she was overlooked by the Nobel committee, who instead awarded Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn the prize in 1944. Meitner came to be known as the “mother of the atom bomb,” although she refused to work on the Manhattan Project after fleeing Nazi Germany. Element 109 is called meitnerium in her honor.
Noether’s Theorem is a fundamental idea on which much of modern physics is built. Published in 1918, her theorem states that if an object has symmetry — in other words, if it looks the same regardless of a difference in location or time — this leads to conservation laws in nature.
A simple example is a movie of the motion of a ball when you throw it. The motion looks the same if you run the movie backwards in time (time symmetry).
Payne-Gaposchkin later became the first woman to chair a department (astronomy) at Harvard.
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