Women of Discovery: Katharine Burr Blodgett

This month we’re profiling one of our Women of Discovery, who also has “Blodgett Street” named after her in the first phase of the Discovery West neighborhood! Holder of eight patents in a variety of fields, Katharine Burr Blodgett (1898-1979) was an American physicist and chemist and the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in Physics from Cambridge University. Her most lauded invention was non-reflective glass film and process  in 1938, which is still used to accomplish things like limiting distortion in eyeglasses and lenses on microscopes, telescopes, cameras, and projectors.


Many of her other significant work surrounded the application and measurement of the non-reflective film, including an apparatus to spread the coatings on surfaces known as the Langmuir–Blodgett trough. Langmuir was another scientist with whom she worked on this discovery. The non-reflective glass was used for submarine periscopes and airplane spy cameras during World War II.


Her long career was full of other significant contributions as well. She also worked with Langmuir on studying electrical discharges in gases when seeking to improve light bulbs, helping to provide a basis for plasma physics. She also invented a method for deicing airplane wings and poison gas absorbents. Her “day job” was with General Electric, where she worked for 45 years until her retirement. She was the first female scientist to be hired by the company in 1918.


She was widely recognized for her scientific work, receiving honorary doctorates from four colleges (including Brown University), as well as with highly esteemed national awards and honors.


Blodgett’s niece and namesake, Katharine Blodget Gebbie, admired her aunt so much that she became a renowned scientist in her own right. We’re proud to also have a “namesake” for Dr. Blodgett in our community at Discovery West as a street name in Phase One.