Friday, 8 March 2013

At small tribute to International Women's Day Making Surface Science History

Understanding of surface science is important.  As I have written this blog I have found that people have actually read it and even more so that I can actually write creatively on this subject.  After a couple of years I have learned that there are a kids out there learning about surface science and winning science fairs.  Many of these are girls.  As an uncle of three awesome exploration driven nieces I would love them to learn more about surface chemistry.  Not only will it enhance their understanding of the world, they could also invent something really really awesome.

As it is International Women's Day I found (inspired from this article)  three inventions made by women who knew a little something about surface chemistry and had a chance to exploit this understanding it to make an interesting discovery.  The first one started it all and today many more women are making strides in surface science.

Agnes Pockels

Understood Surface Tension

When most people wash dishes they likely only see that the dish is clean, some bubbles or something else.  However, when Agnes Pockels was washing dishes she discovered the influence of impurities on the surface tension of fluids (likely from the Wiener Snitzel that Austrian's love).  So she set out to measure the surface tension of these impurities in comparison to the soap molecules already present on the surface of the water.  She invented the Pockels trough which was a precursor to the Langmuir scale and published the first stearine acid.  To measure the tension she developed the Pockels trough, precursor to the Langmuir scale, and published the first stearine acid.

With the little help from a very famous physicist, Lord Raleigh, she published her first paper called Surface Tension in a little magazine (one of the top journals) called Nature.  With this paper and several more she got an award from the Colloid Society and an honorary PhD from Technical University of Brunswick.  Not bad for learning something from in the kitchen.

Katherine Blodgett

Developed World's First Non-Reflective Glass

In 1920, mathematician Katherine Blodgett became the first woman hired by General Electric's Research Lab in Schenectady, New York. She began as an assistant to Nobel Prize-winning chemist Irving Langmuir, and then eventually pursued her own work, studying methods of spreading monomolecular coatings onto glass and metal. In 1935, Blodgett succeeded in developing the world's first non-reflective glass (U.S patent #2,220,660 on March 16, 1938 for the "Film Structure and Method of Preparation" or invisible, nonreflective glass).  At Irving Langmuirs persistence she would also go on to become the first woman to receive a Ph.D in Physics from Cambridge University.

Note: it is great that Irving Langmuir mentored her.  We need more people like this!

Patsy O'Connell Sherman

Invented Scotchgard

Sometimes the best inventions are accidents.  While working as a chemist at the 3M Company, Minnesota native Patsy O'Connell Sherman. In the lab, a chemical spilled on an assistant's canvas sneaker.  Likely this would have absorbed into the sneaker if it was a normal liquid.  Repeated attempts to remove the stain were unsuccessful, Sherman noticed that the chemical repelled water, oil and other liquids.  Maybe most guys might overlook this but possibly Patsy had a keen attention to detail.  She was fascinated by the protective quality of the chemical and with a colleague she would go on to create Scotchguard, one of the best-known stain repellants in the world.