Happy B’day Katharine Blodgett: The Lady Edison And Inventor of Invisible Glass

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The 19th century was considered as a men’s century; women were considered as only housewives and were not provided with proper education. The famous entrepreneurs, industrialists, scientists and research practitioners of the 19s were mostly men.

There were some lucky women who defied this fact include; Margaret Knight called the ‘Lady Edison’ inventor of the shoe manufacturing machine, Melitta Bentz who invented the coffee filtration machine, Caresse Crosby inventor of ‘backless brassiere’ (modern bra), Stephanie Kwolek created unusually light weight fiber which was later modified by DuPont into Kevlar, Katharine Burr Blodgett the inventor of famous ‘invisible glass’.

Being born with a ‘silver spoon’, Katharine Burr Blodgett was provided with the finest of the education which other girls craved for that time. Her father, George R. Blodgett, who was a famous patent attorney for General Electric (NASDAQ:GE), was murdered before she was born.

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Her cutting-edge research paper on gas mask saved thousands of lives during the World War I. The first woman, PhD in Physics from Cambridge University, is best known for her invention of ‘invisible glass’ which is reflected in today’s world camera lenses, telescopes, picture frames etc.

Born: January 10, 1898, Schenectady, New York, USA

Died: October 12, 1979, Schenectady, New York, USA

The ‘tigress’ of the man’s world was the first scientist at GE Research Lab, has quite lesser-known aspects of her life:

  • Early Days: Before Katharine was born, in 1897 her father was murdered by a burglar, soon her mother moved to France with the family.
  • Gifted: With a zeal for Science and Mathematics, Katharine graduated second in her class from ‘Bryn Mawr College’ in 1917 pursuing a degree in physics.
  • General Electric connection: Irving Langmuir, a colleague of her father encouraged Katharine to further her studies before working for General Electric. Seeking his advice, she took admission at the University of Chicago and started working on adsorption of gasses on charcoal there. In 1918, she graduated with a Masters in Chemistry from University of Chicago.
  • Her Invention saved many lives: Her invention of gas mask saved many soldier’s lives during World War I, getting impressed by her work, Langmuir appointed Katharine as his assistant at General Electric. Her knowledge earned her a place in Sir Ernest Rutherford’s Cavendish Lab and achieved her PhD in physics from Cambridge University.
  • Later she developed a gauge known as the ‘color gauge’ to measure its thickness, which was accurate to millionths of an inch. About the procedure, she said” Anyone who wishes to measure the thickness of a film which is only a few millionths of an inch thick can compare the colour of his film with the series of colours in the gauge. The step on the gauge that matches his film in colour will give him a measure of the thickness”. For this fantabulous work, Katharine obtained 6 patents.
  • ‘Invisible glass’: Langmuir described her as ‘gifted experimenter’ which she proved again in 1938 when she invented the ‘invisible glass’ which was non-reflective glass. She developed it by making a 44-molecule thick film on the glass surface.

katharine-blodgett-wonder-glass-newspaper_180-12r_1302x1110

  • Later, during the World War II, she focused her attention on military applications such as smokescreen machine and aeroplane deicing.
  • Apart from being an intense scientist, she had also acted in her town’s theatre group and has also volunteered for many charitable and civic organisations.
  • The great scientist retired from General Electric in 1963 and became the motivation of other female physicist and scientist around the world.
  • The born physicist devoted her whole life to science and never got married. Her path-breaking discoveries have led to the invention of Camera lenses, telescopes etc.
  • Awards and Recognition: In 1945, she was awarded the ‘achievement Award’ by the renowned ‘American Association of University Women’. Also received the Photographic Society of America’s Progress Medal in 1972 among many other awards.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or a renewed leaders who moved the industry with his exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian Assange, Sir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.

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