Nobel laureate Marie Curie has made such an impact on women, scientists, and the world at large that one is hard-pressed to believe she lived and worked in the oppressive Victorian era, dealing with misogyny and a complete lack of opportunities for women.
We all know the many firsts to her credit: she was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman who has won a Nobel Prize twice — once in the Physics category and the second in Chemistry, both shared with others.
If that does not impress you, take a look at what she had to endure to get there. If you think getting a college degree is difficult in 2019, imagine a woman’s situation in 19th century Poland. Marie Curie had to study in secret at the ‘Flying University’. Think Dumbledore’s Army; a collection of students getting together because they want to learn but were not being allowed to by the state.
In this Flying, or Floating, (and extremely illegal) University, Marie Curie and other female students like her fed their curiosity encouraged by pro-education rebels. This gave her the foundation to go on to do seminal work in radioactivity and paving the way for cancer treatment.
Clearly, Marie Curie shows that a brilliant mind cannot be fettered by a patriarchal or closed society. So, on her birthday, let’s celebrate this feisty woman and ground-breaking scientist by revisiting some of the wise, often blunt, things she had to say on life, science, and being a woman.
For the curious but apprehensive:
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”
“First principle: never to let one’s self be beaten down by persons or by events.”
For the woman hemmed in by society’s rules:
“I have frequently been questioned, especially by women, of how I could reconcile family life with a scientific career. Well, it has not been easy.”
“The older one gets, the more one feels that the present moment must be enjoyed, comparable to a state of grace.”
“I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy.”
"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
“Sometimes my courage fails me and I think I ought to stop working, live in the country and devote myself to gardening. But I am held by a thousand bonds, and I don’t know when I shall be able to arrange things otherwise. Nor do I know whether, even by writing scientific books, I could live without the laboratory.”
On the importance of scientific inquiry:
“I am one of those who think, like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries.”
“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”
“There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down errors instead of establishing the truth.”
And, finally, on being ever curious:
“All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.”
“We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for mankind.”
“It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.”