Tag Archives: physics

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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She was only appointed because she’s a linkspam (8th April, 2011)

  • Words and Offense: Of course slurs are still bad… Offense is just not the reason why. Systemic oppression, concept association and a phenomenon known as hostile tagging (where the phrase either tags a person as someone to be hostile to and exclude or tags an area as a hostile place to any oppressed people that come in) are the actual reasons why…
  • Duke Nukem Forever – Wallowing in sexism: In some games we find sexism buried within plot points or seen through the stereotyped portrayals of female characters. Duke Nukem Forever is not one of those games. There is no need to look deeply into gameplay or storyline to find issues. Duke Nukem Forever is simply a game that wallows in sexism.
  • Geeky enough for you?: What I’m curious about here is this: what does the word “geeky’ mean to you? How do you define it? Also, how do you define not-geeky? I’m interested!
  • Trigger warning. Power switch: social media gives victims new ways to fight back These days if a woman is abused or humiliated by men belonging to a macho institution, she needn’t cop it. She can shop her story and shine light on the injustice herself.
  • Women of Color in Tech: How Can We Encourage Them?: But Viva couldn’t get a job in the Valley—despite introductions that I gave her to leading venture capitalists… It raised a red flag in my mind.
  • Hanna Director Joe Wright Slams Sucker Punch‘s Girl Power: Wright… trac[ed] the “alarming” brand of sexually-exploitative girl power found in Sucker Punch back to the Spice Girls.
  • Can we declare victory for women in their participation in science? Not yet: Over the last half-century, efforts to recruit and encourage women to pursue careers in science have been very successful, but they have not been evenly distributed… In physics, though, [the] numbers have barely budged…
  • BGG (Black Girl Gamer)–LFG, PST!: It’s not just the standard girl gamer war, where there is incessant name calling, references to genitalia or even the normal male chauvinist crap. The battle is having to defend why we are even playing games, in the first place. Why would we be playing games, because black women don’t play games.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the “geekfeminism” tag on delicious or freelish.us 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: Emmy Noether

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are currently open.

This is a guest post.

Emmy Noether was one of the most important mathematicians of the 20th Century. Noether’s (first) theorem, which states that for every symmetry in a system there is a corresponding conservation law, is fundamental to modern theoretical physics, and she was one of the first to study topology algebraically.

Like many German Jewish academics, Noether left Germany after the Nazi party came into power, and spent much of her life in the US. Noether could not get a paid job for most of her life due to sexism. She worked for free at various universities while living frugally on an allowance paid to her by her family, and even later in life when she earned a salary she continued to live a frugal lifestyle. As a teacher she was known both for her insistence on strict mathematical rigour, and for her attentive and nurturing attitude towards her students. She was also known for being completely unconcerned about her appearance, sometimes lecturing in food-stained clothing, or with messy hair (not unlike her friend and colleague Albert Einstein.)

Wikipedia: Emmy Noether

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Linkspamming from the mountaintops (29th November, 2010)

  • A Very Special Episode of Grey Areas: Privilege Denying Dude Edition: In social justice, not all tactics that are divisive are effective, but all tactics that are effective are divisive. That doesn’t mean we should set our phasers to divide, but when a tactic is labeled as divisive or radical, there is a chance it might be one worth considering.
  • HTML pseudocode cross-stitch for geek feminist gift-giving.
  • 15-minute writing exercise closes the gender gap in university-level physics: Think about the things that are important to you. Perhaps you care about creativity, family relationships, your career, or having a sense of humour. Pick two or three of these values and write a few sentences about why they are important to you… This simple writing exercise may not seem like anything ground-breaking, but its effects speak for themselves.
  • Disalienation: Why Gender is a Text Field on Diaspora: Sarah Mei writes The “gender” field in a person’s profile was originally a dropdown menu, with three choices: blank, male, and female. My change made it an optional text field that was blank to start. A wide open frontier! Enter anything you want.
  • Grandma’s Superhero Therapy (18 photos) – My Modern Metropolis: GO SUPER MAMIKA!!!!! A few years ago, French photographer Sacha Goldberger found his 91-year-old Hungarian grandmother Frederika feeling lonely and depressed. To cheer her up, he suggested that they shoot a series of outrageous photographs in unusual costumes, poses, and locations.
  • New-ish site you might want to check out: Ars Marginal: So much of the arts and entertainment we get exposed to is by and for straight White guys*. We figured it’s time for us to talk about what we get out of it. Because, frankly, we’re tired of that shit. Ars Marginal flips the script and looks at movies, TV shows, comic books, and games from our point of view.
  • Context. Or, no you don’t get to apply your Internet niche knowledge to me doing my job. :>: yes, using a swastika in your gaming profile is going to get you banned, internet contrarian.

You can suggest links for future linkspams in comments here, or by using the geekfeminism tag on delicious 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: Maria Goeppert-Mayer

Wednesday Geek Woman submissions are currently open.

This is a guest post by Twostatesystem. Twostatesystem is a physicist and feminist who wants to see his field be open and welcoming to all people.

There are two women who have won the Nobel Prize in physics. Most people can name one: Marie Curie. This post is about the other woman, Maria Goeppert-Mayer, who is equally awesome and deserves far more recognition.

Goeppert-Mayer was born a professor’s daughter in Poland, and studied at the University of Göttingen, where she got her PhD. She married an American physicist and they moved to the United States, where she was only able to get unofficial or unpaid positions at the universities where her husband worked. Finally, she was able to get a position (still only part time!) at the new Argonne National Laboratory, while her husband was at the University of Chicago.

While at Argonne, she developed the nuclear shell model independently from others working on the same topic. The model explains why certain nuclei appear to be more stable that nuclei that have nearly the same number of nucleons (protons and neutrons). At its core, the theory rests on the Pauli exclusion principle; like electrons in atoms, which form stable shells (e.g. the noble gases), so too, do nucleons in the nucleus. She was heartened to see that another group, led by Hans Jensen, had developed a similar theory, and they wrote a book together, then later won the Nobel together. She later said that winning the prize wasn’t half the fun of actually doing the work.

Goeppert-Mayer is a tribute to the geek spirit: working for the joy of the work. We cannot retroactively pay her what she deserved (for one thing, she died in 1972!), but we can recognize and remember her and her work now.

Wikipedia: Maria Goeppert-Mayer
Nobel biography: Maria Goeppert-Mayer

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Wednesday Geek Woman: Émilie du Châtelet

This is a guest post by Megan. Megan is a life-long geek and feminist currently working towards a PhD in Chemistry.

Émilie du Châtelet is one of the most under-celebrated scientists of the Age of Enlightenment. Born in 1706 in France, she received an unparalleled education at the encouragement of her father. By 12 she was fluent in French, German, Italian, Latin, and Greek. She continued to study mathematics and physics throughout her adult life, and used her mathematical skills to win extra money through gambling. After her death, Voltaire wrote that Émilie was “a great man whose only fault was being a woman.”

She translated Newton’s Principia Mathematica into French, but her greatest contribution to science came from proving one of Newton’s theories wrong. Newton believed the kinetic energy of a moving object was proportional to its velocity while Liebniz proposed the energy was proportional to the velocity squared. Émilie du Châtelet experimentally proved the energy was proportional to the square of the velocity. Émilie’s dedication to understanding the physical world and eagerness to use experiments to investigate physical theory make her an important figure in scientific history.

Wikipedia: Émilie du Châtelet
physicsworld.com: Emilie du Châtelet: the genius without a beard
NOVA: Emilie du Châtelet (1706-1749)

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Link roundup to watch out for (13th October, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.

A linkspam standing on its hind legs (9th October, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention. Thanks to everyone who suggested links in comments and on delicious.I hope it’s OK not to credit the sources individually: a large number of links here are now coming in from readers.

Ceci n’est pas une linkspam (4th October, 2009)

If you have links of interest, please share them in comments here, or if you’re a delicious user, tag them “geekfeminism†to bring them to our attention.