Atomic and Nuclear Structure
Chemistry and physics overlap at the level where investigations of the smallest particles of matter are carried out. Appropriately, several of the pioneers in the study of atomic and nuclear structure are more commonly identified as physicists, but the line between a chemist and a physicist at this level is hard to draw, and the Nobel prizes for this kind of work are granted in both categories.
The British physicist J. J. Thomson discovered the electron in 1897 and also studied the nature of positively charged particles. He received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1906.
Ernest Rutherford was responsible for a remarkable series of discoveries in the fields of radioactivity and nuclear physics. He discovered alpha and beta rays, set forth the laws of radioactive decay, and identified alpha particles as helium nuclei. Most important, he postulated the nuclear structure of the atom.
Marie Curie was the first person ever to receive two Nobel prizes: the first in 1903 in physics for the discovery of the phenomenon of radioactivity, and the second in 1911 in chemistry for the discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium.
The Joliot-Curies won the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1935 for their artificial creation of new radioactive elements (isotopes) by bombardment of alpha particles on various light elements. These isotopes rapidly became important tools in biomedical research and in the treatment of cancer.
In 1938 Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner, and Fritz Strassmann became the first to recognize that the uranium atom, when bombarded by neutrons, actually split.
Glenn Seaborg was involved in identifying nine transuranium elements and served as chairman of the U.S. Atomic Energy Commission from 1961 to 1971. In 1951 he received the Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Over the course of her career Darleane Hoffman has chased some of the most elusive forms of matter—the heavy elements. In studying these fugitives, she has made important discoveries about the nature of fission, the atomic process at the heart of nuclear power.
Helen Vaughn Michel pioneered the use of high-tech chemical instruments for studying archaeological artifacts. She was also on the research team that uncovered what caused the mass extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago.