It is difficult to decipher whether Marie Curie is more famous as a scientist, or as a female scientist. Obviously, these two things are not mutually exclusive; but when Madame Curie was working, they may as well have been. While she was not the only female scientist in the field during her lifetime, women in science were still a rare sight in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, largely excluded from many of the major universities and laboratories. Yet Marie, through the simple fact of being industrious, brilliant and female, made great strides toward gender equality in the sciences. It would have been difficult to argue convincingly, even in a time when women were expected to stay at home and raise the children, that a scientist of Marie Curie’s caliber ought to give up her important pioneering research because she happened to be female.
Marie left some pretty big shoes to be filled by the female scientists of future generations; but, according to this UW-Madison News article
, those shoes are being filled every day by women here at UW-Madison. According to the article, between 2000 and 2011, the biological sciences have seen an increase from 19% to 28% in female faculty, while physical sciences have gone from a 9% female faculty to 16% in the same period. But Donna Paulnock, Associate Dean for Biological Sciences in the Graduate School, points out that the idea is not just to hire more women and even out a gender ratio:
“The goal is having as many women as possible in any pool of applicants
so we can evaluate them according to their accomplishments, and hire the
The article also points out some roadblocks that face women in the sciences, and how those can be overcome, as well as some programs and initiatives put in place to encourage women and girls toward a scientific career.
As Marie Curie has proven, genius doesn’t discriminate by gender; and with more intelligent, accomplished scientists, male and female, working and researching and inventing and making discoveries, the result can only lead to greater innovation–which is better for all of us.
Brooke Williams, graduate student