Irene Curie--not Marie Curie, the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist you've heard about, but her teenage daughter. The story takes one twist after another, and here to tell it is Winifred Conklin author of the new book Radioactive!
Seventeen-year-old Irene Curie volunteered to serve in World War I as an x-ray technician. She used portable x-rays to help surgeons identify shrapnel and perform operations near the battlefield.
Below Irene Curie on a mobile x-ray unit in 1916.
Both Curie and Meitner would prove to be among the most accomplished female scientists of the 20th century. These women were among a handful of physicists worldwide who were working on better understanding atomic structure.
Curie had been born into the “First Family of Science” (both of her parents had won Nobel Prizes), But Meitner had been turned away from higher education programs because she was a woman.
She finally had a chance to study physics at the University of Vienna in 1901, but she repeatedly came up against obstacles.
She was not paid in the early years of her research program, and she had to set up her own laboratory in the basement of the science building because she was not allowed to work in the main lab with the men.
The chief scientist claimed he was afraid her hair would catch fire, even though she wore her hair in a tight bun and the men in the lab almost universally wore elaborate facial hair.
Lise had to flee Nazi Germany in 1938, leaving her laboratory and research behind. She continued to consult with her former lab partner, Otto Hahn, and she made the breakthrough in understanding of nuclear fission.
Ultimately, Hahn took credit for her discovery and claimed the Nobel Prize for the work they did together. Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn in West Germany in 1962.
“It is an unfortunate accident that this discovery (of fission) came about in a time of war,” Meitner said.
I find these women inspiring not only because of their accomplishments, but also because of their humanity.
Throughout their lives, they both envisioned a world where scientists could master the art of using the power of the atom not for a weapon but for the benefit of humankind.
Winifred, thrilled to have you on the blog today, and to highlight your wonderful book. Thank you!
Winifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers whose works include Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery (Algonquin, 2015) and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. See more about Winifred's books here.