A Reflection on Women in Optics this International Women’s Day

How can you see inside the depth of living tissue? One way is with a technique called ‘two-photon excitation microscopy’ which allows imaging through about one millimeter depth. This technique is now widely used in biology and biomedicine – and its development can be directly linked to Maria Goeppert-Mayer, a Nobel Laureate (1963, Physics) and pioneering woman scientist and mathematician.

Dr. Goeppert-Mayer is most famous for proposing the nuclear shell model of the atomic nucleus, the work cited for her Nobel, but she wrote her doctorate in 1930 on the theory of possible two-photon absorption by atoms. It took the invention of the laser thirty years later for her theory to be proven experimentally. By the late 1980’s, besides applying two-photon absorption to imaging living cells, researchers began to  look at how to store very large amounts of data (3D optical data storage),  how to make micro-sized three-dimensional objects (3D microfabrication) and how to treat cancer (photodynamic therapy). Dr. Goeppert-Mayer’s doctorate idea continues to impact several key technology fields.

Goeppert Mayer. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

Goeppert Mayer. Credits: Wikimedia Commons.

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