Tag Archives: Marie Curie

Pillar covered by colourful advertising bills

Maiden, mother and linkspam (6th December, 2011)

  • The Ada Initiative is holding an AdaCamp in Melbourne, Australia on January 14 for everyone interested in supporting women in open tech and culture, from wikis to open government to digital liberties to open source. Applications to attend close December 14.
  • GNOME Outreach Program for Women Participants Continue to Impress: The accomplishments of the women who participated in Google Summer of Code this year are impressive. For example, Nohemi Fernandez implemented a full-featured on-screen keyboard for GNOME Shell, which makes it possible to use GNOME 3.2 on tablets.
  • How not to market science to girls: This is an apparently successful Australian company that sells science kits for kids. That’s great, and some of the kits look pretty good. The problem is, they split some of the kits into ones for boys, and ones for girls. And that split is exactly what you think.
  • It’s 1980 and women’s writing is being dismissed: Quote from Ben Bova: Neither as writers nor as readers have you raised the level of science fiction a notch. Women have written a lot of books about dragons and unicorns, but damned few about future worlds in which adult problems are addressed.
  • Repost: What I Thought About Twilight: And the verdict is… surprisingly not terrible… My conclusion is that one of the things that I think makes it popular with teenagers also negates some of the moral panic argument: Bella’s agency.
  • Women in Open Source Survey: We all know about the challenges that open source software faces when it comes to women, and the number of women in the open source world actually has been a frequent argument of discussion and research… [Sourceforge] just launched a survey based on the original FLOSSPOLS 10 questions.
  • Scientific American Defends Marie Curie—and Women Scientists—in 1911: As the first woman editor in chief of Scientific American, I’m keenly aware of the sense of standing on the shoulders of giants—some of them clearly frequented our editorial offices in 1911. I thought you’d enjoy in its entirety an editorial that ran in the January 21, 1911 issue.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or pinboard.in or the “#geekfeminism” tag on Twitter. Please note that we tend to stick to publishing recent links (from the last month or so).

Thanks to everyone who suggested links.

Wednesday Geek Woman: Marie Curie, Nobel Prize winning physicist

The Wednesday Geek Woman series is mostly on hiatus. Remaining WGW posts will appear sporadically over the next few months.

This is a guest post by Jennifer, an Australian actuary and feminist who blogs at Penguin Unearthed. She is currently travelling the world with her family and is blogging about notable women of history as she travels. This post originally appeared on her blog.

Photograph of Marie Curie, ca 1898

Photograph of Marie Curie, ca 1898

Marie Curie has been a hero of mine for as long as I can remember. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (for Physics), and then went on to win another Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for discovering two different new elements – polonium and radium.

Marie Curie was born Marie Skladowska in Warsaw, in 1867, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire (the country that had been and would become Poland was split between three different empires at the time). Her parents were schoolteachers, and quite poor, with the family having lost much money supporting various Polish patriotic causes over the years. So after she finished school, she and her older sister agreed to fund each other through University. Her sister went to Paris first, and studied to become a doctor, and then after a few years as a governess, Marie travelled to Paris in 1891, at the age of 24, to study at the Sorbonne.

After finishing two degrees, she married Pierre Curie, and they devoted themselves to science. They were very poor, and spent long hours experimenting in a very basic laboratory. They studied the phenomenon of radioactivity (a word with Marie Curie coined) and realized that it was did not come from molecular interactions, but from inside the atoms themselves. They also realised that pitchblende, a uranium rich mineral, was more radioactive than could be accounted for by its uranium, but that there must be some other radioactive element or elements emitting more radiation. They spent long hours chemically analysing tonnes and tonnes of pitchblende in order to separate out first polonium, and then, after Pierre was killed in a tram accident, Marie continued alone to separate radium.

Marie and Pierre won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, shared with Henri Bequerel, for their discoveries and descriptions on radioactivity. And then Marie won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry on her own in 1911, for discovering Radium. Despite the two Nobel Prizes, the French Academy of Sciences refused to elect her as a member, as she was a woman.

Marie Curie's Birthplace At the time, nobody knew how dangerous radioactivity was. Marie Curie died of leukemia in 1934, probably because of her exposure to radioactivity. Her notebooks remain too radioactive for safe use even today.

She and Pierre had two daughters, both also extraordinary. Irène, the older, won a Nobel Prize of her own (shared with her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie), and Eve was elected an officer of the French Legion d’Honneur for her work with Unicef.

Marie Curie was a driven woman; driven by her devotion to scientific discovery. She won her second Nobel Prize one hundred years ago this year. To do what she did, she was in almost completely unchartered territory to be a woman in science. But she didn’t just succeed. She surpassed. She is still the only person to have won two Nobel Prizes for two different sciences.

Wikipedia: Marie Curie

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The Fourteen Not Forgotten and Sexist Posters at Waterloo

This is a guest post from Christine Cheng. She is a research fellow in politics at Exeter College, University of Oxford. In a previous life, she studied systems design engineering and was student government president at the University of Waterloo. This post was originally published at her blog.

(Trigger Warning for survivors of the École Polytechnique Massacre and survivors of campus threats against women)

A photograph of Marie Curie has an image of a mushroom cloud next to it. It is titled 'The Truth'. The caption at the bottom of the poster says, ''The brightest Woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie. The Mother of the Nuclear Bomb. You tell me if the plan of Women leading Men is still a good idea !'

Photo source: Canadian University Press

This post is in honour of International Women’s Day (March 8th).

Recent events at my alma mater, the University of Waterloo, have left a bad taste in my mouth. In mid-February, in the middle of student government elections, someone covered up the posters of female candidates with an image of Marie Curie, a nuclear explosion and the following slogan “The brightest woman this Earth ever created was Marie Curie, The mother of the nuclear bomb. You tell me if the plan of women leading men is still a good idea!” A poster with the same image was also put up with similarly alarming text: Kill 250 000 innocent Japanese in WW2 and is given 2 Nobel Prizes. Expose the defective Moral Intelligence of Womankind and it is called Sexism. It had the caption: “Marie Curie = evil”.

Later on, this person sent out a fake email purporting to be Feridun Hamdullahpur, the University of Waterloo’s President. In this mass email, the message railed against “against women in leadership and women attending university“.

This was followed up by a Facebook profile, presumably from the same person:

When a bad idea comes to this Earth it always hides behind The Shield of Vulnerability. This way it is immune from being attacked in the open. Radioactive Technology was hiding behind the vulnerable looking mask of Marie Curie and this is why no one caught it in advance. They figured that if a female was pushing it then it was harmless. They figured wrong. The truth is that overeducated women are truly dangerous. If they don’t know right from wrong they will nuke the whole Planet and call it the latest fashion from Holt Renfrew. This is the truth. The world is in trouble today because the higher moral intelligence of men is not in charge anymore. How long will you let this continue? The choice is in your hands. I didn’t leave posters on your campus because I am a fool. I left them because I am your father who is concerned about where your education is ultimately going. You are being taught the virtues of gender equality when gender equality is nowhere in the Orginial Plan of Creation. Queen Elizabeth is leading you astray and charging you big money for this evil favour. When you graduate from here you will have a degree but no real intelligence. This is the truth.

There have been at least two stories in the Kitchener-Waterloo Record on the case, an article posted on the Maclean’s website, and now, an article on Jezebel. The UW campus police are investigating: “forensic analysis of the posters; review of closed-circuit television footage; and collaboration with computer specialists to track the identity of the individual who sent [the] impersonating email fraudulently.”

These are the facts that I have been able to cobble together. While I am loathe to give any legitimacy to the person who has done all of this, I felt that it was more important to post these comments so that readers can get a better sense of why I was alarmed. It may be the case that this person was just trolling and stirring up trouble. But if you take these sentiments at face value, this person comes across as off-balance and in need of counselling.

Obviously, this is not representative of how the larger UW community feels about female scientists, female students, and female leaders. The University of Waterloo as an institution, in my experience, has been quite sensitive to gender issues on campus (though Prof Shannon Dea eloquently disagrees with me in her post on this issue). Having assertive and capable female leaders at all levels of the institution has helped.

Yet this is not just about the misogynistic acts that have been committed, but it is also about how the larger community chooses to respond to these acts. Sadly, in addition to the many constructive conversations that have taken place as a result of these incidents, other comments have been less than helpful, to say the least. For example, Bill Li, a current UW computer science student had this to say in response to a female student who was extremely upset about the events:

Really Sherlock? UW is a male dominated campus, I wonder why… oh, let’s see, UW is in the top for Engineering, Math, and CS, given that most girls doesn’t want to give the effort and sacrifice needed to go through the Engineering or Math program at UW, you are going to bitch and cry that the university is male dominated? Really? So if you want a female dominated campus, try “Bryn Mawr College”.

You have no right to bitch that the campus is too male dominated, when there are literally no girls in the Engineer or Math faculty, even though there are scholarships and extra benefits given to females that are in the Math faculty.

I have seen similarly insensitive posts on other sites. Bill seems to agree that these incidents were wrong, but he fails to grasp that his comments contribute to making women in his program feel unwelcome. Women like me graduated from computer science and engineering despite sentiments like these, which thankfully, were extremely rare in my corner of UW.

Part of the reason that I’m posting about this is because it feels like I could just as easily have been the target of these incidents. I studied systems design engineering at Waterloo in the late 1990s. I was surrounded by amazing, accomplished female classmates. One third of my class was female (and none of us dropped out). I also ran for and became president of my student government at Waterloo. Those posters could just as easily have been mine.

There is also a larger social and historical context to this story that should not be forgotten. Twenty-two years ago, on December 6th, 1989, Marc Lépine, walked into the École Polytechnique (part of the engineering school at the Université de Montréal), then shot and killed fourteen female students, and wounded ten other women and four men. If you read the coroner’s report about how the men and women were systematically separated before the women were all shot in the name of feminism, or watch Denis Villeneuve’s film Polytechnique about the Montreal Massacre, a chill will run down your spine. This event casts a long shadow over incidents like those at UW.

In 1998, during my last year as an engineering student at Waterloo, I organized the Fourteen Not Forgotten Memorial. I exchanged emails with Chris Redmond, the editor of UW’s daily newsletter, about why the memorial was important in spite of the fact that gender didn’t seem to be much of an issue with my cohort. He posted part of our exchange online. I don’t completely agree with everything that was said by my 23 year-old self anymore, but I do think the issues I raised back then are still relevant thirteen years later. Here is an excerpt:

I understood [when I was 14] that the gunman was a sociopathic killer, but I had no explanation as to how this could have possibly happened in the world that I had grown up in. His irrational behaviour didn’t fit into my model of how things worked and I had no reason to think of him as anything other than an extremist, someone who would not and could not listen to reason. My solution was to exclude him from my world, to cast him out. I guess this also meant that, to some extent, I ignored the impact of what he had done and the hatred that he represented. There was nothing in my social conditioning that allowed me to understand his deep-seated despisal of women, and in particular, of feminists.

Now, nine years later, I have a slightly better sense of the methodically rational side of his actions. After all, it was not in a rage of passionate fury that he committed these murders. A virtual hit list was found on his body consisting of fifteen high-profile women: these included the first woman firefighter in Québec, the first woman police captain in Québec, a sportscaster, a bank manager and a president of a teachers’ union.

Society recognizes that he was a psychopath — but to what extent was he a product of social influences, and how much of it was sheer and utter isolated madness? [Chris and I] talked about the continuum and where this event would sit on this continuum. I don’t have an answer for this. What I do know is that it was and still is, to a greater or lesser extent, a reflection of society’s attitudes towards women.

So we must ask ourselves: How do these attitudes filter down through the rest of society? When a male classmate jokingly says to me that I won my scholarship because I am female, how am I supposed to interpret that? How does that relate to the fact that the killer felt that these women got into engineering because they were female? He certainly felt that they were taking up his “rightful” place in the program. Am I taking up the “rightful” place of another disgruntled male in systems design engineering?

[Marc Lépine] committed an extreme act, but society is at a crossroads right now — we value women’s equality, but the lingering effects of centuries of discrimination [are] not going to disappear overnight and we have to recognize that together. [Women] are valued [equally] in the eyes of the law. But in practice, systematic discrimination still goes on, even if it isn’t as obvious as it used to be.

I know that these recent events were “isolated incidents”, but I think that they still raise broader issues of gender equality that are worth discussing. Comments on other sites also suggest that while gender was never an issue for me at UW, it has been an issue for other women.

While I hope that this is just a trolling incident that has gotten out of hand, there is a distinct possibility that there is worse to come. In light of the Montreal Massacre and my previous comments on the Gabrielle Giffords shooting and the power of political rhetoric, this conversation about women’s equality is clearly one that needs to continue.

* * *
For more constructive commentary on these incidents, E. Cain suggests some concrete measures for improving campus safety, Maclean’s discussed the importance of hate crime legislation, and UW campus leaders gathered to discuss the problem. Shannon Dea has a thought-provoking piece in Hook and Eye.  Also check out the commentary following the Jezebel article.

Sidenote: On the accuracy of the claims about Marie Curie, see Luke Bovard’s piece: the honest truth: Marie Curie.

Update: Bill Xin Li took down his post on this topic but before he did so, he decided to troll someone who sent him an unfavourable response. Preferring not to do further damage to this person’s reputation by providing another link to what was written, suffice it to say that it was rude and inappropriate. Let’s keep this clean and constructive.