Inspirational women in science and research

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.
Illustration from a Bain New Service photo, via Library of Congress.
The life of Marie Curie is being celebrated today because: A) She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize; B) It is the 150th anniversary of her birth; C) She and her husband conducted work leading to the isolation of polonium and radium; D) All of the above.

     The answer, of course, is all of the above. Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934),born in Poland, broke glass ceilings before it was fashionable to do so.
      Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, had been inspired by Henri Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity in 1896. The Curies' research "led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie's birth, and radium,"  recounts the website for the Nobel Prize. Marie Curie "developed methods for the separation of radium from radioactive residues in sufficient quantities to allow for its characterization and the careful study of its properties, therapeutic properties in particular."
      Curie and her husband claimed credit for both individual and joint contributions to their work. This helped build the reputation of the couple as a research team, while establishing Marie Curie as a scientist.
      In 1903, she won the Nobel Prize for physics alongside fellow scientists Becquerel and her husband. Five years after Pierre Curie's death, she alone was awarded Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1911.
      Today, in celebration of her birthday, here are five women who have inspired interest in math and science through their work and research: 

Tabetha Boyajian (1980- ), assistant professor of physics and astronomy at Louisiana State University. She is known for research involving a star 1,500 light-years away. Working with the findings of citizen scientists, she and other researchers discovered something massive blocking the light from the distant star. The finding led to speculation that this could be an alien structure. In a lecture on YouTube (below), she explains that there is probably a natural explanation that scientists don’t yet understand. “Either way,” she says, “there’s something new and really interesting to discover.

Katherine Johnson (1918-), mathematician for NASA. Johnson retired from NASA long ago, but became a celebrity this year thanks to a book and film about the work of African-American women at the space agency. Among her accomplishments, she did trajectory analysis for Alan Shepard’s May 1961 mission Freedom 7, America’s first human spaceflight, according to NASA. The film Hidden Figures prominently featured her work involving orbital equations on the trajectory of John Glenn’s capsule during the 1962 Friendship 7 mission.

Franƈoise Barré-Sinoussi (1947-), a French virologist. She was a co-recipient of the 2008 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine. She and a colleague, Luc Montagnier, identified the cause of acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). “Through dissection of an infected patient’s lymph node, they determined that AIDS was caused by a retrovirus, which came to be known as HIV (the human immunodeficiency virus),” recounts Encyclopedia Britannica. “Their work led to the development of new antiviral drugs and diagnostic methods.”

Emmanuelle Charpentier (1968- ) and Jennifer Doudna (1964 - ).The two scientists demonstrated that “the mechanism used by bacteria to disable their foes could be adapted as a programmable precision genetic tool to modify genes in cells and organisms,” according to the UNESCO website. This could translate into new ways to fight illness. Charpentier is professor at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology in Berlin. Doudna is professor molecular and cell biology and chemistry at University of California, Berkeley.

        To know more:


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