Friday, September 30, 2011

Nobel Season: 100th Anniversary of Marie Curie's Second Nobel

The Smithsonian magazine features a profile -- by Julie Des Jardins -- that "[examines] the story of [Curie's] story—how she lived, but also how she has been mythologized and misunderstood." Here's an excerpt from near the end of the article:

With the women’s movement of the 1960s and ’70s, Curie’s reputation as a remarkable scientist came to the fore. The physicist Rosalyn Yalow, in an essay she wrote at the time of winning her own Nobel Prize in 1977 for research involving radioactive compounds, said that Curie was her inspiration. Biographers attempted to depict the brilliance and complexity of this outsize character. A new play, Radiance, written by the actor and director Alan Alda, focuses on her relationships with Pierre and Langevin as well as her science. A new graphic novel, Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout by Lauren Redniss, examines Curie’s life in the context of radioactivity’s impact on history. It has a glow-in-the-dark cover.

It’s taken a century, but we can finally appreciate her as a multifaceted woman of uncommon intensity, intelligence and will—a woman of courage, conviction and yes, contradictions. After a century we see her not as a caricature, but as one of the 20th century’s most important scientists, who was, at the same time, unmistakably, reassuringly human.

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Update: Back in 2006, after I read an excellent biography of Marie Curie -- Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie by Barbara Goldsmith -- I posted some excerpts from that book: here, here, here, and here.