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Blau, Marietta

particles rays tracks emulsions

(1894–1970) Austrian physicist: introduced photographic emulsion for detection of nuclear particles.

Born and educated in Vienna, Blau worked mainly there, on gamma-rays, X-rays and radioactive decay, largely unpaid. In the early 1930s she began to work on the tracks formed in photographic emulsion by ionizing particles and radiation. At that time the study of cosmic rays was of rising importance had shown that they were high-energy particles from outer space, with energies higher than any other particles known until modern accelerators were built. Blau found that a-particles and recoil protons made tracks in photo emulsions from which their direction and energy could be deduced. By 1936 she was using improved emulsions, exposed to cosmic rays on nearby mountains at 2300 m, and found sets of star-like tracks with up to 12 branches: these resulted from disintegration of atoms in the emulsion as a result of cosmic ray impact.

Her plans to use higher altitudes were aborted when the Nazis entered Austria in 1938; fortunately she was visiting Copenhagen, but as a Jew, return to Austria was not wise. After a year in Oslo, and with the support of , she was offered a professorship at the Technical University of Mexico City. On her way there by airship, at a stop-over in Hamburg, her luggage was searched and her films with particle tracks on emulsions and notes of future research were removed. A period of low-paid and unsatisfactory jobs followed, in Mexico and the USA. She improved the photo technique for high-energy particles, and received the Schrödinger Prize in 1962 (he twice nominated her for a Nobel Prize, without success). The circumstances of the time, and her health and perhaps her personality, denied her the full recognition her work deserved. Its fuller development came at the hands of in Bristol in the post Second World War period.

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