At Least We Have Marie Skłodowska-Curie...to encourage women in science

On the eve of the 2015 Nobel Prize Award Ceremony (10th  December 2015) we want to draw the attention to Marie Skłodowska-Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) as the first women who won a Nobel Prize back in 1901. In fact, she was the first person to receive this important scientific award twice: the first in 1901 in Physics and the second in 1911 in Chemistry.

With her pioneering research on radioactivity, Marie Skłodowska-Curie demonstrated against the predominant stereotypes of her times that women have a strong scientific vocation and are as capable as men to make groundbreaking discoveries. The literature dealing with her impact on science and society is huge, but we want to especially recommend this edited book Celebrating the 100th Anniversary of her Nobel Prize in Chemistry. 

Since 1901, 825 men have received the Nobel Prize but only 47 women (see this analysis of Nobel Prize winners from a gender perspective). Impressive figures to remind us of the persistent gender inequality and missed opportunities in science. Following artist Jennifer Mondfrans portraits and fictive letters, let's remember  Marie Skłodowska-Curie in order to encourage more women in science. 

Marie Curie (1867- 1934)

By Jennifer Mondfrans (At Least I Have You, To Remember Me)

Dear You,

My mother never held me after my fourth birthday. She had contracted TB. She was so afraid of giving it to us–she used her own cutlery. She left for months at time, “taking the cure” in Austria, so we hardly saw her. When I was twelve, she left for “cure” in the south of France and never came home.

My father had a PhD but could only get a job teaching science in a boy’s high school. He was Polish. Both my mother and father’s parents lost their property in the uprising for Poland’s independence. Russian Poland would not allow Polish patriotism. No universities would hire him.

He put all of his energy into his five children. I was the youngest but understood the most. I studied relentlessly, learning through my own education until the universities allowed women. When I was finally admitted, I did not have much money. I often fainted from hunger.

When I met Pierre at the Sorbonne, he was a man who could match my own mind. He knew what it was like to think like white heat and yearn for the secrets of science. We realized a dream together and won the Nobel Prize for discovering polonium, which I named after my country of Poland.

And then it all ended. Was he looking when he stepped out into the road? Probably not. He was always deep in thought. I became a widow with two small daughters. Pierre’s father raised them while I worked endless hours in the lab. I forbid his name be uttered. I could not bear that I lost the love of my life.

I did accomplish what Pierre and I wanted. From the exhaustive manual work of distilling the contents of a ton of pitchblende to isolate one ounce of pure radium, I was awarded another Nobel Prize. I was the first person to win in a new realm of science, which I had created: Nuclear Physics.

I used to keep a vial of radium by my bedside. I had always hoped that radium would have health benefits, but even I could not conceive of the destruction of radioactivity. I was its discoverer and my discovery destroyed me in the end. My papers from the 1890s are still too radioactive to handle. But with proper protection, radiation has saved lives. My work lives on and that is what matters.

Love,

Marie

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