Marie Curie: More Than Mere Icon?

Marie Curie

Marie Curie. Image courtesy of the Smithsonian Institution Archives, Accession 90-105: Science Service Records, 1920s-1970s.

It is almost here! 2011 is the International Year of Chemistry and (not coincidentally) the centennial of Marie Curie winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. As the year progresses we will be treated to events and activities around the world that aim, according to the IYC website, “to increase the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.”

In addition to learning more about the advances of modern chemistry, we will hopefully also learn more about the scientists who dedicate their lives to the chemical sciences. In the course of conducting oral histories for the Women in Chemistry Career Pathways project, I have heard numerous women speak of the inspiration they found in Marie Curie, a devoted scientist and mother. But how much do we as a general public know about Madame Curie? For many of us she is an icon—witnessed in photos posed in her laboratory or with her daughters. Like images of Darwin brand him as an old man with a bushy beard, we envision Marie Curie more than we actually know her. 

As part of a celebration of Women in Chemistry and IYC,  in April CHF will host Susan Marie Frontczak, performing her one-woman show Manya, based on the life of Marie Curie. I hope that throughout 2011, we all learn more about all of the chemists in our lives and also more about the most famous female chemist—allowing her to become more than just an icon.

Posted In: History | Policy

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