Happy Birhday, Madame Curie. What else can we learn from you?

Anyone who has performed a Google search today, should note the Google doodle of the day which gives a nod to Marie Curie, two-time Nobel Prize winner and famous physicist and chemist.  I always love reading about Marie Curie and thus, I didn’t waste a moment checking out the renewed coverage she gained from Google.  An article from PC Magazine brought to light some of the circumstances Marie Curie was faced with as a working women in the 1900s.

Madame Curie in her laboratory

1) After the death of her mother and sister (tuberculosis and typhoid respectively), Marie Curie suffered a bout of depression before returning to Warsaw to attend a “floating university”.  It was illegal for women to attend universities in Warsaw at the time, so these classes met in secret at locations that changed regularly.

2) Marie and one of her sisters were so committed to their studies, that they moved to Paris where they could garner an education.  Marie worked full-time putting her sister through school, and once her sister graduated, she did the same for Marie.

3) Marie met Pierre Currie and they were married in 1895.  Marie succeeded Pierre as head of the Sorbonne Physics Laboratory, however, regardless of this phenomenal title, when Pierre tragically died in 1906, there was some contention over Marie being awarded his position as Professor of General Physics…she was the first women ever to hold that job.  She later headed the Curie Laboratory at the Radium Institute at the University of Paris.

4) Marie Curie did, after her husband’s death, have an affair with married graduate student, Paul Langevin.  While Marie Curie had at this point won a Nobel Prize in Physics as was a celebrated scientist in France, she was still met by an angry mob threatening her  (as well as her children) for wrecking a fine French home.  She later accepted her second Nobel Prize for her work done in France.

Amidst these hardships…the prevention of women from getting and education or from holding a faculty position, the chastising of a woman in an affair rather than a man…it is amazing that Madame Curie remained resilient in her passion to further science and medicine, making sure her efforts in understanding radioactivity (which would eventually kill her) were used very early to treat cancers and for X-ray machines to be used on the front lines of WWI to treat servicemen.

Her passion and life continue to allow us to explore not only science, but humanities role within its pursuit.

…And on a lighter note, this was sent to me by a fellow female scientist.  Check out the link to this cartoon.

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Filed under culture, gender roles, history, Science

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