Women in Optics: Mary Banning Friedlander developed multi-layer low reflecting coatings

Mary Banning Friedlander, multi layer films

Mary Banning operates the knife switches powering one of the evaporators at the Institute of Optics, circa 1944. [Mary Banning Friedlander/Opt. News 13(6), 10 (1987).]

Rochester, New York is not just the “birthplace” of the thriving optics industry as we know it today, it’s also where the inclusion of women in STEM fields got its start. In 1941, Mary Banning Friedlander (FKA Mary Margaret Banning), a Physics Ph. D. from Johns-Hopkins University began her short but wildly successful career in optics and went on to develop multi-layer low reflecting coatings.

Once the United States officially joined Allied forces in the war, tensions ran high as the country struggled to develop new military technology to help defeat their enemies on the battlefield. One important optics contribution (among many) that came from Rochester were the multi-layer low reflecting coatings that Friedlander developed during her tenure at the Institute of Optics. These multi-layer films were used in military rangefinders and several other defense applications. Friedlander’s work in optics also contributed to solving another very critical issue for the U.S. Military: how to land in hostile territory in complete darkness without being detected by the enemy.

For more information on Mary Banning Friedlander’s career and achievements in optics, head over to read an in-depth article by Sarah Michaud and Stewart Wills at The Optical Society of America website.