Photograph of Branca Edmée Marques

Wednesday Geek Woman: Branca Edmée Marques, Portuguese scientist, and collaborator with Marie Curie

This is a guest post by Jennifer. Jennifer is a feminist and actuary who is travelling the world with her family and profiling notable women of history on her blog.

This entry is cross-posted from Jennifer’s blog.

Submissions are currently open for Wednesday Geek Woman posts.

Photograph of Branca Edmée MarquesBranca Edmée Marques was a Portuguese scientist, who studied and worked with Marie Curie. She was born in Lisbon in 1899, and studied chemistry at the University of Lisbon. In 1925 after completing her degree, she was invited to be an Assistant by the Chemistry Professor. He was concerned about whether she would maintain discipline in her classes, being female, but she must have succeeded as in 1930 she was awarded a scholarship to study with Marie Curie at the Sorbonne, in Paris.

Marie Curie was by then very famous, having won two Nobel Prizes. Curie liked her work so much that she gave her one of her most interesting research projects to do, and wrote a letter to the Portuguese government asking them to renew her research grant.

Unfortunately the combination of Marques being a woman, and the Portuguese government being in a state of flux (transforming from military to civilian dictatorship) meant that her grant wasn’t renewed. Curie managed to finagle a continuing scholarship for her anyway, and her doctorate on “new research on the fragmentation of barium salts” was awarded with the highest possible rating of tres honorable. In 1936, the Portuguese Universities recognized the degree, and awarded her an equivalent doctorate.

On returning home, however, she was unable to get an appropriate post at University. This, from all my sources, does appear to be fairly simple sexism, even if the lack of financial support in France might not have been. Instead, she lectured and started up the Laboratory of Radiochemistry and only in 1942 was she awarded the title of First Assistant, which meant that the University was recognizing her contribution more significantly.

Photograph of Branca Edmée Marques
She continued to lecture and work towards building up a new department, which eventually became the Department of Radiochemistry and Nuclear Chemistry. She published regularly throughout her professional life, researching many aspects of peaceful application of nuclear technology. In 1966, her contributions were finally recognized with a full professorship at the University of Lisbon.

She died in 1986, at the age of 87.

This post is based on Portuguese language sources (linked below) so anyone who can read the original Portuguese, please feel free to comment if my interpretations were wrong!

Marcas das ciências e das técnicas: Professora Branca Edmée Marques
A ciência em Portugal: Branca Edmée Marques
Maxima: Sancha Sanches

2 thoughts on “Wednesday Geek Woman: Branca Edmée Marques, Portuguese scientist, and collaborator with Marie Curie

  1. Ana

    Wow, thank you so much for this! I’m Portuguese AND studying chemistry and i’d never even heard of her. Thankfully, today there’s a lot more equality, and many of my college professors are women. It still isn’t perfect, but there’s hope… =)

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