Inventors are inspirational. Katharine Burr Blodgett was an inventor, physicist, and scientific researcher. She worked for General Electric and she invented low-reflectance “invisible” glass among other things.
Katharine Burr Blodgett was born on January 10, 1898 in Schenectady, New York. Her father was killed by a burglar when her mother was pregnant with her. After she was born, her mother, brother, and Katharine moved to New York City. In 1901, the three of them moved to France until they moved back in 1912. Back in New York City Katharine attended the Rayson School where she was when she won a scholarship for Bryn Mawr College. She excelled there in mathematics and physics and received her B.A. in 1917.
Her father had worked for General Electric and she visited the Schenectady GE plant when she was a senior. There she met research chemist Irving Langmuir who she would later work with in his laboratory. Katharine enrolled at the University of Chicago to pursue a master’s degree in 1918. She did her master’s thesis on gas masks used in World War I and published it in the scientific journal Physical Review. Later in the year she completed her degree and was the first woman scientist hired at the GE research lab. In 1926, she became the first woman to receive her Ph.D. in physics from Cambridge University. She then returned to work at GE. There she worked with Irving Langmuir and created monomolecular coatings to cover the surfaces of water, metal, or glass. In 1935, Katharine devised a method to spread monomolecular coatings onto glass or metal. She developed practical uses for Langmuir’s gossamer films. She went on to create “invisible” glass. Her invisible glass was used in cinematic productions beginning with Gone with the Wind. Her glass was used for submarine periscopes and airplane spy cameras during Worl War II.
Katharine later invented the color gauge to measure the molecular coatings on glass to one millionth of an inch. She worked with Langmuir on improvements to the light bulb. Their work helped lay the foundations for plasma physics. Her work led to eight U.S. patents, two of which she shared with co-inventor Vincent J. Schaefer. She, also, published over 30 technical papers.
Katherine Blodgett lived in two different Boston marriages with women and lived a vibrant life. She acted in a local theater group and volunteered for civic and charitable organizations. She was treasurer of the Traveler’s Aid Society near her. She had several hobbies. She received numerous awards during her life, including having a day named after her in Schenectady, New York. Katharine Blodgett died at home on October 12, 1979. An elementary school was named after her in 2008 in Schenectady as well. Be inspired! Have a bright day!