Katharine Burr Blodgett was born in Schenectady, New York, on January 10, 1898. Her family moved to New York City, then to France, and back again to New York City by 1912. She had shown an early interest in mathematics and physics in her early education and received a scholarship to Bryn Mawr College at the age of 15. She graduated in 1917 with a bachelor's degree in physics.
She looked for employment opportunities at General Electric (GE), where her father had worked, and was introduced to GE's research chemist, Irving Langmuir. Realizing Katharine's scientific aptitude, Langmuir encouraged her to continue her education. She received her master's degree in chemistry from the University of Chicago, studying gas adsorption and the chemical structure of gas masks, graduating in 1918. She then became the first woman hired to be a scientist at GE.
After working several years at GE, Katharine pursued a doctoral degree, becoming the first woman to graduate with a PhD in physics from Cambridge University in 1926. She returned to GE to work alongside Langmuir, focusing on surface chemistry. Katharine discovered a new way to measure transparent objects with spectacular accuracy while working an oily substance Langmuir had developed (Langmuir-Blodgett Film). This led her to invent a non-reflecting glass in 1938.
Non-reflective glass was used to make eyeglasses, create clearer pictures in camera lenses in cinematography, and improve airplane glass during World War II. During the war, her research contributed to improvements on smoke screens and de-icing the wings of airplanes. Her thin-film knowledge led to meteorological contributions post-war. Katharine received numerous accolades for her scientific discoveries such as the 1945 Annual Achievement Award from the American Association of University Women, the 1951 American Chemical Society's Francis P. Garvan Medal, an American Physical Society fellow, and the Photographic Society of America Progress Medal. She retired in 1963 and remained active her hometown of Schenectady until her dead in 1979.
Further Reading at USC
Blodgett, K. (1934). MONOMOLECULAR FILMS OF FATTY ACIDS ON GLASS. Journal of the American Chemical Society., 56(2), 495–495. https://doi.org/10.1021/ja01317a513.
Blodgett, K., & Langmuir, I. (1937). Built-Up Films of Barium Stearate and Their Optical Properties. Physical Review, 51(11), 964–982. https://doi.org/10.1103/PhysRev.51.964
Petty, M. (1996). Langmuir-Blodgett Films: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press.
Roberts, G. (2013). Langmuir-Blodgett Films. Springer-Verlag.
"Katharine Burr Blodgett: Pioneer in Surface Chemistry and Engineering". Edison Tech Center. 2014
"Katharine Burr Blodgett." Famous Scientists.