At Mme. Curie’s Lab: Radioactivity and the Role of Women in Science

12.04.2021 | 12.04.2021

Dava Sobel, 41N 72W

A little over a year ago I reviewed a book about women chemists, called Women In Their Element, edited by Annette Lykknes and Brigitte Van Tiggelen. While reading it, I was surprised to discover how many of these women — names such as Harriet Brooks, Ellen Gleditsch, May Sybil Leslie, Marguerite Perey — had worked at least briefly for Marie Skłodowska-Curie. Pierre Curie’s sudden death in an accident in 1906 opened an unusual opportunity for his widow to assume the position of laboratory director and professor at the Sorbonne. She was the only woman in the world holding such responsibilities. Although she did not go out of her way to hire women, she did not turn them away either. I am gathering information to help me introduce these women and describe their contributions to the burgeoning field of radioactivity. Several, though not all of them, made important contributions. I am as interested in documenting the situation of women scientists in this period as I am in the science itself. Mme. Curie and her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie are my main focus, but their international colleagues, including Ernest Rutherford and Stefan Meyer, are also considered, especially their interactions with female students and collaborators.


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