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Google Doodle celebrates pioneering physicist Hedwig Kohn

The courageous physicist, who fled Germany during World War II, helped develop techniques to identify and understand atoms.

hedwigkohn
Google

Trailblazing physicist Hedwig Kohn smashed STEM stereotypes and became one of only three women to reach a university teaching position in Germany prior to the second World War. On Friday, the Google Doodle celebrates what would have been her 132nd birthday.

Kohn was born in 1887 and obtained her doctorate in 1913 at the age of 20 after training under notable atomic physicists Otto Lummer and Rudolf Ladenburg. In 1930, she was given "Habilitation" at the university -- the term used to describe academics who were able to teach at university.

According to the Jewish Women's Archive, Kohn was dismissed from her position at the University of Breslau in 1933 because she was Jewish. As World War II approached and the Kristallnacht was carried out by the German Nazi party, it became untenable for Kohn to stay in the country -- but it was also difficult to leave.

With the help of the American Association of University Women and the International Federation of University Women, as well as her former associate Ladenburg, Kohn was able to negotiate a visa and teaching position in the US. She worked at the Women's College in North Carolina, before moving on to Wellesley, Massachusetts and finishing her career at Duke University. She left an indelible mark on the physics world, having contributed to a number of publications on flame spectroscopy and a leading teaching publication on radiometry.

Kohn passed away in 1964.

The Doodle was drawn by guest artist Carolin Löbbert and features a stylized Kohn in a laboratory measuring emission spectra, in addition to atomic structures and a handful of Erlenmeyer flasks. Early concepts of the Doodle are available at Google's Doodle homepage.

Originally published April 4 at 4.31 p.m. PT
Updated April 5, 3.11 a.m. PT: Clarified flasks in Doodle, not beakers.