Esteemed thinker: Marie Curie

Marie curie_toned The first time you looked through a telescope and saw craters of the moon and the first time you placed a celery stalk in water mixed with food coloring and its leaves turned from green to blue… you knew you were in the presence of magic. Oh, not the fake kind of magic where your Uncle was hiding the coin in his other hand…even the ‘young’ you understood this was a trick! No, it’s the kind of magic that seduces you, a yearning to learn more … it’s the special magic that nagged at your youthful imagination to find out what makes the leaves turn colors in autumn, why does the wind whistle through the oak’s canopy, and how is it that the firefly wears a little light that goes on at night… the real magic that comes alive with knowledge.

Just perhaps this is how it must be for the life of the scientist; a quest to discover or uncover magic. Of course I am using magic as a metaphor in relationship to scientific discovery, however just for a moment think about it …it often seems like such work would be aligned with the spirit of wonderment… almost a childishly magical realm…

And so with the thoughts of the magic in science, today’s blog brings you the esteemed thinker: Marie Curie; given name Maria Salomea Skłodowska and best known as Madame Curie (1867-1934)… legendary woman scientist… pioneer in the study of radioactivity. Born in Russian occupied Poland, at the age of fifteen she obtained a higher education (forbidden to girls in Poland) from a clandestine, revolving academy for women taught in private homes. In 1891 she went to Paris to study at the Sorbonne where she met and married the French professor and physicist Pierre Curie (1895). Their life together was mutually respected whereby their research and discoveries led the way for future generations. Marie Curie’s life is nothing short of a heroine, having earned two Nobel Prizes in Physics and in Chemistry and culminating in the tragic death from radium; the very discovery that brought her fame.

So, let us take pause to hear a bit of her words during a debate she presided over in Madrid (1933) on “The Future of Culture”. We will celebrate this extraordinary woman with a brief but solitary moment out of own busy day…

“… I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: *he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale. We should not allow it to be believed that all scientific progress can be reduced to mechanisms, machines, gearings, even though such machinery also has its own beauty. Neither do I believe that the spirit of adventure runs any risk of disappearing in our world. If I see anything vital around me, it is precisely that spirit of adventure, which seems indestructible and it akin to curiosity… ”

* it is curious that Madame Curie only used the masculine pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ although she herself was a great and renown scientist at this time in her life. However, when we reflect back with the knowledge that women in France had only gained the right to vote in 1944 (by the order of 21 April 1944 adopted by the provisional government of General de Gaulle in Algiers) it really is not too curious after-all…

11 thoughts on “Esteemed thinker: Marie Curie

  1. That’s an absolutely fantastic quote!

    As to the pronoun, though, it’s not as odd as it seems. Up until the middle of the 20th century, the masculine pronouns ‘he’ and ‘him’ were used to refer to people of mixed gender, and many female writers used them that way. See e.g. Anne Curzan, Gender Shifts in the History of English, page 74. I presume the same was true of French, complicated by French noun-pronoun gender agreement rules. In any case, Mme. Curie is clearly using the masculine ‘un’ and ‘il’ to include herself here.

    “… Je suis de ceux qui pensent que la science est d’une grande beauté. Un scientifique dans son laboratoire est non seulement un technicien : il est aussi un enfant placé devant des phénomènes naturels qui l’impressionnent comme des contes de fées. Nous ne devrions pas laisser croire que tout progrès scientifique peut être réduit à des mécanismes, des machines, des rouages, quand bien même de tels mécanismes ont eux aussi leur beauté. Je ne crois pas non plus que l’esprit d’aventure risque de disparaître dans notre monde. Si je vois quelque chose de vital autour de moi, c’est précisément cet esprit d’aventure, qui semble qui me paraît indéracinable et s’apparente à la curiosité. …”

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  5. Hi navery 101 – like the famous Taipei Tower! 🙂 You may know Madame Curie has been a national monument here in France…
    My very best and tons of inspiration, cheers! 🙂 Mélanie

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