Women who have achieved in the fields of science and
medicine are celebrated in this wonderful book, in which we
meet seventeen luminaries. These REMARKABLE MINDS in some
cases achieved despite a bias against women and
international turmoil. Pendred Noyce wrote an earlier
book, MAGNIFICENT MINDS, about such pioneers.
Émilie Du Châtelet was born in France in 1706. She learned
Latin as a child but enjoyed a social whirl in Paris after
marrying a Marquis. Twenty-six, she made intellectual friends
and applied herself to scholarship. Voltaire cleverly wooed
her by praising her intellect. Émilie submitted papers to a
contest, suggesting ideas such as different colours of
light carrying different degrees of heat. The paper - under
her husband's name - was published by the French Academy of
Sciences. She wrote books on mathematics and physics, and
died soon after giving birth.
Maria Gaetana Agnesi, in Milan, was in 1745 the first woman
to author and supervise the printing of a book of advanced
mathematics. She was advanced in languages due to her
father, and by twenty she was publishing theses of natural
philosophy and science. After her father's death she worked
to aid the poor.
Sophie Germain, without formal training, applied herself to
learning mathematics and working on Fermat's Last Theorem,
among other issues. Napoleonic France was subject to rules
barring women from attending lectures. This was a time of
turbulence in Europe, and these ladies had relatives who
were guillotined. Their wealth enabled them to study all
day, advancing science by buying materials for
experimentation and publishing privately.
Hertha Ayerton was the daughter of a Jewish refugee from
Czarist Poland, born in England in 1854, and she attended
the new Girton College for Women in Cambridge University.
She had already made herself financially independent as a
governess and mathematics tutor. She patented inventions
and delivered lectures for women on electricity and how it
might save labour in the home, giving examples such as
sewing machines and clocks. Conducting many acclaimed
experiments and publishing, she became the first woman
electrical engineer, but the Royal Society, while
applauding her work, refused to grant her membership on the
grounds that a married woman had no legal status of her
own. Not surprisingly Hertha, who was married to a
professor, joined the militant suffragette movement.
Florence Sabin, born in the United States in 1871, became
the leading female medical researcher of her generation,
helped by grants from a wealthy spinster, Mary Elizabeth
Garrett, who aided in founding John Hopkins University
provided that it was open to both sexes. Like medical
researcher Helen Taussig, who worked to save 'blue babies',
Sabin was underpaid and passed over for promotion compared
to male colleagues in academia. However, her work was on
such highly relevant issues as tuberculosis and public
health, and she received many honours in later life.
Austrian Marietta Blau, meanwhile, had worked in the Radium
Institute but fled the rise of Nazi Germany, moving to
Mexico and then the US. Her work with cosmic radiation and
particle physics led to her being awarded the Schrödinger
Prize in 1962.
Gerty Cori was awarded the Nobel Prize for cutting-edge
biochemistry, along with her devoted husband and co-worker
Carl. Irene Curie, daughter of Marie, was awarded the
French Military Medal, and with her husband in 1935 won a
Nobel Prize in chemistry, although women in France, where
they lived, could not vote. By combining quantum physics
and stellar atmospheres, Cecilia Payne helped to establish
the field of astrophysics. Jane Cooke Wright, born in 1919,
was the only African-American woman in her class, but made
breakthroughs in chemotherapy, receiving many awards.
Rosalind Franklin is now well known as the fourth person to
have contributed to the work granted the Nobel Prize for
discovering DNA, awarded to three men.
Reading these fascinating biographies just makes me want to
find out more, and the splendid photos and illustrations
bring the people and topics vividly to life. All of these
women deserve to be celebrated and their achievements are a
remarkable struggle against war, bias and unequal
opportunities, helping to advance the status of women. I
noticed that true intellectual men were more interested in
ideas and advancing science, no matter the sex of the
scientist. REMARKABLE MINDS by Pendred Noyce is an
enlightening and stimulating read, which may inspire a new
generation of women.
Full of the inspirational stories girls need for
exploring a future in science.
For centuries, women have risen above their traditional
roles to pursue a new understanding of
the natural world. This book, which grows out of an
exhibit at the Grolier Club in New York,
introduces the lives, sayings, and dreams of 16 women
over four centuries and chronicles their
contributions to mathematics, physics, chemistry,
astronomy, and medicine. Some of the notable
women portrayed in the book include French mathematician
Marie-Sophie Germain, known for
her work in Elasticity theory, differential geometry, and
number theory; Scottish chemist Elizabeth
Fulhame, best known for her 1794 work An Essay on
Combustion; and Rita Levi-Montalcini, who,
with colleague Stanley Cohen, received the 1986 Nobel
Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their
discovery of nerve growth factor. A companion volume to
Magnificent Minds by the same author,
this book offers inspiration to all girls and young women
considering a life in the sciences.
In many ways, Irène Joliot-Curie’s life echoed that of
her mother, the famous physicist Marie Curie. Like Marie,
Irène lost a parent at an early age, married a fellow
scientist, won a Nobel Prize with her husband, taught at
the Sorbonne, was refused admission to the French Academy
of Sciences, and died of a radiation-induced blood
disease. Calm and dedicated, Irène never appeared daunted
by her parents’ fame. She freely chose her life in
physics. “That one must do some work seriously and must
be independent and not merely amuse oneself in life—this
our mother has told us always, but never that science was
the only career worth following,” she said.
Irène Curie was born one month prematurely on September
12, 1897, in Paris, just after her parents returned from
a long bicycle ride. In 1897, Marie Curie was just
beginning the study of uranium rays that would lead to
her great discoveries. To help care for the baby while
her parents spent long hours in the laboratory, Pierre’s
father, Dr. Eugène Curie, came to live with the family.
Irène adored him. He taught her about nature and
introduced her to the socialist ideals she carried
through her life.
Marie carefully recorded Irène’s growth and development.
On vacations in Brittany, Irène’s father Pierre took her
on walks or bicycle rides, pointing out plants and
animals and talking to her about mathematics. Both
parents believed that children’s education should include
plenty of fresh air and exercise.
When Irène was six years old, her parents won the Nobel
Prize in Physics for their discovery of radioactivity,
although they did not travel to Stockholm to collect the
prize for another two years. Irène’s sister Eve, who grew
up to be a talented musician and writer with no interest
in science, was born the year after the Nobel award.
Two years after Eve’s birth, when Irène was nine years
old, their father Pierre was killed in a sudden accident,
run over in the street by a heavy, horse-drawn cart.
Their mother took over teaching Pierre’s course in
physics at the Sorbonne. Otherwise she withdrew into
mourning and did little but go to her laboratory and
visit the cemetery in the nearby village of Sceaux.
Eventually she moved the family into the village to be
closer to the cemetery.
Once in Sceaux, Marie pulled herself together enough to
help organize a cooperative school with other Sorbonne
professors, including Pierre’s former student, Paul
Langevin. Eminent scholars taught each other’s children
mathematics, science, Chinese, sculpture, or whatever
else interested both teachers and pupils. The children
were also physically active. “We did gymnastics,
swimming, bicycling, horseback riding . . . we rowed, we
skated,” Irène remembered.
But sorrow continued to visit. At thirteen, Irène lost
another father figure with the death of her beloved
grandfather. The following year, scandal broke over the
family when the tabloid press in Paris published a series
of letters, perhaps partly forged, between the widowed
Marie Curie and the married Paul Langevin. Newspapers
demanded that the “foreign” home-breaker, Marie Curie,
return to her native Poland, and crowds threw rocks at
the windows of the family’s house. Marie and her
terrified daughters sought refuge in the home of friends,
Emile and Marguerite Borel.