Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In celebration of Ada Lovelace

Today is Ada Lovelace day. In honor of her achievements as a woman in technology, a global blogging event is celebrating women in science and technology (2nd annual). I am participating as part of The Mad Scientists of Etsy (MSOE).

Whenever the occasion to write a biography or a description of a scientist arises, I am always drawn to the life of Marie Curie. The daughter of a school teacher, she was one of those rare women in the late 1800s - educated and literate. She worked to pay her sister's way through school as her sister had helped her, she took a backseat to her husband Pierre Curie's scientific endeavors until his death, and she raised another Nobel winning woman scientist, Irene Joliet-Curie. Her intelligence and abilities became known after her husband's tragic death, proof that she was his partner and not his assistant. I always marveled at the pictures of early 20th century scientific meetings, Madame Curie sitting at the table among men like Einstein, reading or writing all the while, a stark contrast.

Marie Curie discovered radium and polonium, provided the mobile radiography (X-ray) units for the front during WWI, and died from the radiation produced by her discoveries. She gave her life to investigative endeavors (Her papers and notes from her laboratory are purported to still be too radioactive to be handled).

Though known for chemistry, Marie Curie proceeded her late husband as a Professer of Physics at the Sorbonne in France, a world famous institution at the time - the first woman to do so. She was also the Director of the Curie Laboratory at the University of Paris in the second decade of the 20th century, as well as founding the Radium Institute in collaboration with the Polish government and an award from President Hoover of the United States.

Marie Curie has two Nobel prizes to her name (the first scientist to achieve this, let alone a woman) - sharing one in Physics with her husband in 1903 and being the sole holder of the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Radium Institute has become the Maria Sklodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology in Warsaw, Poland, a leading research and treatment center. So her legacy of discovery lives on.

Marie Curie (Maria Sklodowska-Curie) 1867-1934 and beyond

For more pictures and award listings, see those uploaded to her Wikipedia entry

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