Friday, June 19, 2009

Marie Curie: shedworker

Well done to those of you who spotted that last week's Name That Shed belonged to Marie Curie (as you all guessed, the previous week was The Secret Seven's shed from the Enid Blyton stories). The American Institute of Physics has a particularly fulsome account of the key role that shedworking played in her groundbreaking work on polonium and radium and how Marie moved her lab to an abandoned shed (formerly a medical school dissecting room). Apparently it was drafty, had poor ventilation and let in the rain - she called it a “miserable old shed”. Here's how Nancy Froman on the Nobel web site describes it:
"In a preface to Pierre Curie's collected works, Marie describes the shed as having a bituminous floor, and a glass roof which provided incomplete protection against the rain, and where it was like a hothouse in the summer, draughty and cold in the winter; yet it was in that shed that they spent the best and happiest years of their lives. There they could devote themselves to work the livelong day. Sometimes they could not do their processing outdoors, so the noxious gases had to be let out through the open windows. The only furniture were old, worn pine tables where Marie worked with her costly radium fractions. Since they did not have any shelter in which to store their precious products the latter were arranged on tables and boards. Marie could remember the joy they felt when they came into the shed at night, seeing "from all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes" of the products of their work."

1 comment:

  1. Bless her heart...if only she could have known the dangers of the glowing little lights at night.