In my last post I shared quotes by 10 famous female scientists. Today I want to introduce the first three of these impressive and extraordinary Ladies.
Marie Currie (1867 – 1934)
She was the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize and the first female professor at the University of Paris. At that time many scientists found it difficult to believe that a woman could be capable of in depth scientific work.
Marie Curie received two Noble Prizes, one in Physics (in 1903, shared with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel) and one alone in 1911 in Chemistry for the discovery of Polonium (element 84 of the periodic system) and Radium (element 88 of the periodic system). Her husband Pierre Curie had died in 1906 in a road accident.
She was born in Warsaw, Poland, and became later a French citizen. However, she never lost her sense of Polish identity. That’s why she named the first element that she discovered ‘Polonium’, after her native country.
Marie Curie’s daughter Eve writes a sweet story in the biography about her mother. Marie and Pierre loved to sit in the dark in their laboratory, holding hands and watching the beauty of the illumination of radium, not knowing about the dangers of radioactivity at that time.
Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)
Lise Meitner was an Austrian, later Swedish, physicist. She worked on radioactivity and nuclear science. Together with Otto Hahn, Lise Meitner was part of the team in Berlin that discovered nuclear fission. Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1944 for their discovery. For reasons of security, Jewish Lise was living in Sweden at this time. She is often mentioned as one of the most glaring examples of women’s scientific achievement overlooked by the Nobel committee.
Being invited to work at Los Alamos during the Manhattan Project to create the atomic bomb, Lise Meitner said
“I will have nothing to do with a bomb!’
Element 109 of the periodic system is named in her honor ‘Meitnerium’. It was discovered at the GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research where I worked for 4 years (as described in my post How tumor therapy became personal).
Gertrude Elion (1918 – 1999)
Gertrude Elion was an American biochemist and pharmacologist. In 1988, years after her official retirement, she was awarded the Noble Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the discoveries of important principles for drug treatment (shared with James W. Black and George H. Hitchings).
A life changing moment was her grandfather’s death of cancer when Gertrude was only 15. She became a hard working woman who dedicated her life to science. She never married nor had any children. She said
“I had no specific bent toward science until my grandfather died of cancer. I decided nobody should suffer that much.”
While working with Hitchings, Getrude developed the first drugs to fight leukemia, herpes, and AIDS. Using innovative research methods Gertrude oversaw the adaptation of Azidothymidine (AZT), the first drug used for the treatment of AIDS.