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University of Wisconsin–Madison

Tag: Marie Curie

“After Chernobyl” at Ebling Library

“The closer you are to Chernobyl, the less dangerous it seems.”

This is the theme of Ebling Library‘s latest exhibit, “After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart.” Though the Chernobyl of popular mythology is a dead, barren wasteland (or, in some tellings, a radioactive breeding ground for monsters), Rothbart’s photographs tell a different story. The Chernobyl he shows us, nearly thirty years after the nuclear disaster, is filled with life in unexpected places. From the residents, many of them evacuees, of nearby “safe” towns and villages, to the workers and managers who maintain the inactive power plant as it is decommissioned, to the samosely—elderly evacuees who illegally returned to their homes inside the Exclusion Zone after the accident, and still live there now—the Chernobyl area is not quite as dead or barren as terrible horror movies would have you believe.

It would be interesting to ask Marie Curie if, had she known what her work would ultimately lead to—among other things, disasters such as Three Mile Island, Chernobyl, and, most recently, Fukushima (a link between our last Go Big Read book and our current one)—would she still have pursued her line of inquiry? Do the benefits of nuclear energy outweigh the risks? In the aftermath of a nuclear disaster, is it worth it to try to build a new life in a radioactive home?

As the Ebling exhibit asks: after Chernobyl, would you stay?

“After Chernobyl: Photographs by Michael Forster Rothbart” runs until August 31st in Ebling’s third-floor gallery space.

For more information on the Chernobyl disaster, you can check out these library resources. Lauren Redniss writes about Chernobyl in the 2012-13 Go Big Read pick, Radioactive. The once-flourishing, now-abandoned city of Pripyat, which was built to house plant employees and their families, has its own fascinating website, set up by an organization seeking to turn Pripyat into a “museum city.” In the meantime, as seen in the Chernobyl Diaries trailer, there are guided tours that will take you into Pripyat and to the Chernobyl plant. If you’re not feeling quite that adventurous, you can take a look at these photos of Chernobyl and Pripyat at the Telegraph.

But your first stop, of course, should be the third floor of Ebling Library.

Happy birthday, Marie Curie!

Madame Curie was born on this date in 1867, and would have been one hundred and forty-five years old today—pretty impressive!
Why not celebrate Marie’s birthday in true scientific fashion?  Head over to Memorial Library and spend a few minutes with the Marie and Pierre Curie exhibit in the lobby (just past the check-in desk).  Or wander over to Ebling to see Fallout: The Mixed Blessing of Radiation and Public Health, a fascinating exhibit currently on display in the gallery.  If you missed Lauren Redniss when she came to campus, you can watch her talk here.  Or, if you’d rather spend this gray day just curled up with a good book, you can always check out one of these great Marie Curie biographies in the library catalog.  (Or just re-read Radioactive—it’s always worth a second look!)
However you choose to celebrate, everybody here in the Go Big Read office wishes you a truly radioactive day!
Brooke Williams, GBR graduate student

Happy Halloween from Marie and Pierre!

These phenomena that we have seen seem to us inexplicable by any trickery–tables rising from four legs, transport of faraway objects, hands that pinch and caress you, luminous apparitions.  Everything in a place that was prepared by us with participants we know well and with no possible deception. –Pierre Curie

Image courtesy of the National Media Museum.

The spooky image to the right is an example of spirit photography, a relic of the Spiritualist craze that swept Europe and North America in the mid-19th century.  Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century Swedish mystic, theologian and scientist, is widely credited with inspiring the Spiritualist movement: his writings on the spirit world and the nature of the human soul were devoured by readers eager for some hint of what lay on the “other side.”  Swedenborg’s work, and the work of those who followed him, became particularly popular in the Victorian age—the era of Victor Frankenstein, Sherlock Holmes, Jack the Ripper and Count Dracula—when the intersection of the scientific and the spine-chilling did not seem wholly unlikely.  Many prominent figures of the time were fascinated with spiritualism, including Pierre Curie.

Spiritualist mediums and mystics made claims of communication with the dead, and seances were usually well attended by believers and skeptics alike.  Pierre Curie was particularly interested in the work of Eusapia Palladino, a famous Italian medium.  Her veracity was highly contested; it was quickly discovered that she would “cheat” whenever possible, but her fans insisted that plenty of things took place at her seances that could not be explained by trickery.  Pierre Curie treated the seances as a science experiment, taking careful measurements and notes.

Image courtesy of the National Media Museum.

Spirit photography was just as popular as the seance, perhaps more so, because the photographs were believed to be documented proof of ghosts and other spiritual activity.  One of the most famous cases was that of the Cottingley Fairies: photographs were published of two young English girls sitting and playing with fairies near the brook at their country home in the early 20th century.  The photographs were declared by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to be undeniable evidence of psychic activity.  Decades later, the two girls in the photographs, now elderly women, admitted that the entire affair was a hoax.

In her October 15th lecture on campus, Lauren Redniss pointed out that the Curies, with their interest in Spiritualism, were simply following their instincts as scientists: they could not dismiss the idea simply because it seemed unlikely.  After all, the isolation of polonium and the discovery of radium had once seemed equally unlikely.  Why shouldn’t two scientists entertain the possibility that there might be more to the world than they knew?

If you’d like to explore the world of Spiritualism, or just want to get into the Halloween spirit, check out these spooky links:

The Spirit Photographs of William Hope, a Flickr gallery by the National Media Museum
Do You Believe?, a “Ghostly Gallery” from the American Museum of Photography
Spiritualism at the Victorian Web
The Case for Spirit Photography, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Disembodied Spirit, Alison Ferris
Eusapia Palladino and Her Phenomena, Hereward Carrington
Spirit photography is alive and well today (pun intended)!  Check out these galleries of modern day spirit photos.

Happy Halloween!

Brooke Williams, GBR Grad Student

Memorial Library Curie Exhibit

Pierre and Marie Curie with their bicycles.  Image source.

Next time you’re in Memorial Library, don’t just run past whoever’s checking IDs and head straight for the elevators!  Stop for a minute and enjoy this fascinating exhibit on Marie and Pierre Curie.  It’s right in the lobby, so you can easily check it out as you rush up to the stacks or to hunt out a study space.  Below is the official description from Robin Rider in Special Collections:
“In conjunction with this year’s Go Big Read
selection, Radioactive
by Lauren Redniss, an exhibit in the lobby of Memorial Library
highlights both the scientific work of Marie and Pierre Curie and
articles about them in publications aimed at the general public.
Marie and Pierre Curie — together, separately,
or in collaboration with others — produced scores of scientific
articles and longer works, some of which are on display. The dates
stamped within the volumes of such publications show that the
University of Wisconsin library received many of them quite
quickly, sometimes within just a few weeks of their publication in
Europe – this, at a time when such European publications reached
Madison by a combination of ship and rail.
The exhibit also includes a sampling of mainly
American publications from the 1920s and 1930s illustrating the
place of Marie and Pierre Curie in the public eye (and the public
imagination). All of the volumes on display are from the holdings
of Memorial Library.”
The image featured above comes from Marie Curie’s book Pierre Curie. Avec une études des “Carnets de laboratoire.” Paris: Denoël, 1955.  Full citation here.
Brooke Williams, Go Big Read grad student