This Woman Who Won the Nobel Prize Did the Work Without Getting Paid

Maria Goeppert Mayer was given "unpaid" and volunteer positions for most of her academic career.

nobel prize

The second woman to ever win the Nobel Prize for Physics was Maria Goeppert Mayer, in 1963. But Mayer performed the work that won her physics’ most coveted and prestigious prize while in “unpaid” and volunteer positions, repots Atlas Obscura. It was not until she was in her late 50s, just three years before she won the Nobel, that a university finally hired her full-time and for pay.

Mayer became fascinated with quantum mechanics and spent years at Johns Hopkins, Columbia University, and University of Chicago, pursuing her work in physics outside of any official academic structure. In Chicago, Mayer was made a professor, but was not given a salary for her work. While there, she dug into her work on the origins of elements, which led to the work that ultimately won her the Nobel Prize. She shared the prize with a separate team of scientists who independently came to the same conclusion.

In 1960, the University of California, San Diego, appointed her to a full-time job. However, when she won the Nobel Prize, newspapers called her a “San Diego Mother.”

On Monday, Donna Strickland was awarded the Nobel Prize, making her the third woman to win the award.

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