Physics & Chemistry

  • Photo of Marie CurieMarie Curie (1867-1934) is one of the best-known female scientists of modern times. She is known of course for her work on radioactivity, done in collaboration with her husband Pierre. In 1891 she moved from Poland to Paris where she studied physics at the Sorbonne. In 1894 she met Pierre and they married in 1895. Working together, in 1898 they discovered polonium (named after Marie's native Poland) and a few months later radium. In 1903 the Curies shared with Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize for Physics. Pierre died suddenly in 1906 but Marie carried on his work, taking over his professorship at the Sorbonne, the first woman to teach there. In 1911 she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. Her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie was also a noted scientist who, working with her husband Frederic, discovered artificial radioactivity in 1934.
  • Dorothy Hodgkin (1910-1994) (pictured below) studied chemistry at Oxford and then x-ray crystallography at Cambridge. She then returned to Oxford and spent her life teaching and studying biological molecules using x-ray crystallography. She discovered the structures of penicillin, insulin and vitamin B-12, for which she received a Nobel Prize in 1964. Picture of Dorothy Hodgkin in a group of women, holding an award
  • Lise Meitner (1878-1968) was an Austrian physicist who was part of the team that discovered nuclear fission; her colleague, Otto Hahn, received the Nobel Prize for this work but Meitner was overlooked. Forces as a Jew to flee Hitler's Germany in 1938, she ended up in Sweden where she continued working on nuclear fission. She recognized early on the possibility of explosive potential but refused to work on the Manhattan Project. She stayed in Sweden and held a professorship at the University College of Stockholm. She received many awards, and many hold that she, not Hahn, should have received the Nobel Prize.
  • Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958) contributed substantially to the discovery of the structure of DNA. Her first research was on various types of carbon and she developed x-ray diffraction methods for this. She then moved on to use the technique in preparing DNA samples; one of her photographs was shown to John Watson and he and Francis Crick quickly understood the implications and began working on their now famous structure. Franklin then moved on to work on the tomato mosaic virus (TMV) and located its infective element. Her exposures to X-rays undoubtedly contributed to her untimely death of cancer at age 37.