In 1932 he graduated in Physics from Columbia University. She subsequently transferred to the University of North Carolina, where she became the first doctoral student of John Wheeler, one of the pioneers of nuclear fission theory. She received her doctorate in 1938, with a work on nuclear physics "Photoelectric cross section of the deuteron".
Passionate about nuclear physics, in 1939, she took a teaching position at the University of Tennessee, becoming a full professor in 1941. There she researched neutron sources and published several articles using the liquid drop model, developed by Niels Bohr.
In 1942, Wheeler recruited her to work on the Manhattan Project at the Chicago Metallurgical Laboratory. With physicist Alvin Weinberg, she analyzed neutron flux data from Enrico Fermi's nuclear reactor designs to see if it was possible to create a self-sustaining nuclear chain reaction. These calculations were used in the construction of Chicago Pile-1.
Subsequently, he examined the problem of nuclear poisoning of reactors by certain fission products. With the physicist Eugene Wigner he developed the empirical Way-Wigner formula, which calculates the beta decay rate of radioisotopes produced in nuclear fission reactions and which turned out to be a new advance in nuclear physics.
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