Women’s History Month began as a weeklong celebration in 1982, and has evolved into a full month of celebration in March of each year. Since 1995, annual proclamations have been made by Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama, along with tributes and support by many great institutions from the Library of Congress to the Smithsonian Institute. There are countless stories of the impact women have had on history. Today I would like to focus on Madame Curie and women in technology.
The STEM curriculum (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is a hot topic. However, I would be remiss not mentioning the numbers that are as much a part of this story as the inspiring women leaders in the areas of STEM. According to a recent article in Forbes, in 2012, women made up only 26 percent of the computing workforce. (Department of Labor Current Population Survey, 2012). In the same year, only 18 percent of computer science majors were women. Women held only 11 percent of executive technical roles at privately held, venture-backed companies. (Dow Jones VentureSource, 2012). Only 7 percent of venture capital goes to women-owned businesses, and of those venture capitalists investing in startups, only 4.2 percent are women. Regardless of the stats and the plethora of reasons ‘why’ and ‘why not’, it sets the stage for just how remarkable these women and their accomplishments are.
Madame Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867, a time when the city was part of the Russian empire. Her father, a secondary school teacher, introduced her to the sciences which became her passion as she continued her studies at the Sorbonne in Paris, attaining Licenciateships in Physics and Mathematical Sciences. It was there that she met her husband, Pierre Curie, who was a Professor in the School of Physics. She succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, earning her Doctor of Science degree and she took her husband’s place as Professor of General Physics, following his untimely death.
Her early work, in collaboration with her husband, led to the isolation of polonium. Madame Curie also developed methods for the separation of radiation from radioactive residue allowing for the identification of its therapeutic properties. To date, she is the only woman to have received two Nobel Prizes. The first Nobel Prize which she was awarded (shared with her husband, Pierre and another physicist, Antoine Henri Becquerel) was in Physics and the second Nobel Prize in Chemistry was in recognition of her work in radioactivity.
The importance of Madame Curie’s body of work and awards she received, along with her prolific family, is a reflection of the influence they had on the scientific community and the world. Her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, went on to share a Nobel Prize for Chemistry with her husband in 1935 for their synthesis of new radioactive elements. (Source: Nobel Media)
To all the women, and men, that have dedicated their lives to STEM, we thank you for your contributions. Although the numbers aren’t at a higher level yet, this is a time of great hope and it is up to each of us to keep the momentum going in a positive direction. How? Support STEM, watch for diverse and progressive companies like netlogx and pursue the opportunity to be an individual contributor. This is cool stuff!
If you want to learn more, please find additional information at the links below:
Pierre and Marie Curie in the “hangar” at l’Ecole de physique et chimie industrielles in Paris, France, where they made their discovery. (Photo taken 1898.)
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