Google Pays Tribute to Extraordinary Physicist Hedwig Kohn

Kohn's brilliant achievements are a testament to overcoming adversity.

Google pays tribute today to pioneering physicist Hedwig Kohn, celebrated in the Google Doodle. Kohn smashed through the glass ceiling becoming one of only three women to be in a university teaching position in Germany prior to the second World War.

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What would have been her 132nd birthday is being recognized by the popular search engine. Kohn was born in in 1887 in what was then Breslau, now known as Wroclaw, Poland.

She was awarded her doctorate in physics 1913 and was given the position of her professors assistant soon after beginning work under the direction of Otto Lummer.

One of only three women to achieve a teaching position  

She continued working at the University Physics Institute during World War I and obtained her habilitation in 1930. Habilitation is the qualification needed in Germany at the time for academics to teach inside a university.

Kohn’s research focused on the quantitative determination of the intensity of light, both from broadband sources, such as a "black body," and from the discrete emission lines of atoms and molecules.

In 1933, Kohn was forced out of her high-status position at the university because she was Jewish. As the Nazi party took great and greater control over the country it became unsafe for any Jewish people to stay but almost impossible to leave.

Fortunately, Kohn was able to gain assistance from the American Association of University Women and the International Federation of University Women who helped Kohn negotiate a visa and passage to the USA.

Lucky escape from fascism

Upon arrival, Kohn began work at the Women's College in North Carolina, before moving on to Wellesley, Massachusetts. When Kohn retired from teaching in 1952 she couldn’t stop her scientific work entirely. 

The professor of physics at Duke University Hertha Sponer, offered a position as a research associate. At Duke, Kohn was able to set up a lab where she oversaw graduate students onto their doctorates and continued her research into flame spectroscopy.

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She continued to work until her death in 1964. Her teaching and research left a huge impression on the world of physics in particular her study on flame spectroscopy and her published papers related to radiometry. 

The celebratory Google 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.

Google Doodle pays homage

You can see the artists early concepts by visiting the Google Doodle homepage.

Kohn’s achievements are an inspiration for all scientist and researchers, but particularly for women in STEM who continue to face discrimination and setbacks in their work due to their gender. Now more than ever is the time for women to be welcomed into the work of STEM.

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It Is everyone's responsibility to ensure everyone is given equal opportunity to pursue their passions and studies no matter their race, gender or class. Science doesn’t discriminate and neither should we.

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