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The Case of Madame Curie


Henry Smith Williams, M.D., LL.D.

When the discovery of radium was given to the world, together with the fact that a woman had had the principal share in that discovery, there were not wanting critics who contended that Madame Curie's achievements were due to the guidance of her husband's philosophical imagination and the inspiration of her love for him. Madame Curie's scientific activity after her husband's death silenced such critics for a time; but the recent publication of the Curie-Langevin correspondence has brought up again the question, Can a woman working independently, with no aid from outside influences, “develop the type of imagination that is essential to creative investigation in science"?

HE most talked about subject in within the province not merely of scienthe scientific world in recent tists, but of every one who is interested in weeks has, doubtless, been the the extraordinary feministic movement that case of Madame Curie. Possi- is so marked a social phenomenon of our

bly, also, there is no other cur- time. rent question that has stronger elements of It must be recalled that Madame Curie's genuine interest.

position in the scientific world is not merely In saying this, I do not, of course, refer to anomalous-it is unique. In the entire the question as to whether or not the cele- history of scientific progress, from the times brated chemist has been indulging in an of Pythagoras and Eratosthenes and Arintrigue of scandalous dimensions with her chimedes to the last decade of the ninecolleague at the Sorbonne, Professor Lange teenth century, there had been not a single vin. That is a question of importance only scientific discovery of great significance to the three or four persons directly in- ascribed to a woman. So Madame Curie's volved and to their immediate friends and position as co-discoverer of radium was not associates.

unnaturally regarded as having somewhat French editors have made it matter for the significance of ushering in a new eraduels, to be sure, and its pros and cons have an era in which woman was destined to been cabled around the world. But all that take her place side by side with man even does not raise it above the commonplace. in so abstruse and uninviting a field as that

What does give the case of Madame Curie of pure science. real interest is the fact that the scandal Doubtless, the general public, when they reveals a very close and intimate intellec- hear the word radium, think of this remarktual relationship between the only woman able woman as its discoverer and scarcely in the world who has ever stood in the fore- recall that the discovery was made in the front of scientific discovery, and a man who laboratory of one Pierre Curie and with the is conceded to be one of the most brilliantly constant collaboration of that man of science. imaginative physicists of our time. Pub- The importance of the discovery itself has lished extracts from their alleged corre- been greatly exaggerated, and the name of spondence contain passages that seem pretty Madame Curie has become a household clearly to suggest an intellectual dominance word to thousands of people who never of the man over his woman colleague, such heard of Becquerel, the founder of the as scholars of the first rank are not supposed science of radioactivity, or of Professor to accept. This, coupled with the some- Rutherford, its chief exponent. what problematical conditions that attended This is natural enough, since great men the discovery of radium, brings the matter of science are fairly numerous, whereas of


directed and interpreted with the far-seeing Madame Curie might very well duplicate imagination of genius.

her early triumphs. One of the most famous of European men As a matter of fact, Madame Curie made of science put the case to me in a

no startling discoveries for a number of novel light not many months

years after her husband's death. ago, in the course of a con

The work of investigating the extraversation in which he pre

ordinary properties of radium was dicted that Madame Curie's

taken up by a school of English inwork in future would be but

vestigators, most prominent of whom the work of an average plodder.

is Professor Rutherford of Manches“Whatever element of in

ter, who announced one striking spiration there might have

discovery after another, while been in Madame Curie's

Madame Curie earlier work," he said,

occupied herself "was due to the

with the writfact that when

ing of a book she made her

about the important


new science. researches

At last, she was not

however only work

(in 1910), ing under

came the guidance

announceand inspi

ment that ration of a

Ma da me profoundly

Curie, to imagina

the confutive man,

sion of her but that,

critics, had further

done a new more, she

· piece of was in love

original with that man.

research Thus, and thus only, in

work. She my opinion, is a woman

had isolated the metal likely to do really creative

radium. This brought her name work in science. But Pierre Curie

again prominently before the pubis dead, and so Madame Curie's in

lic. She became a candidate for spiration is gone forever.”

election to the Academy of Science But this critic forgot, quite obvi

an honor never hitherto accorded to ously, to reckon with the fact that

a woman. Her candidacy was a woman who has loved and lost

unsuccessful, to be sure, but there may find a new object of affection.

were rumors that it would be Pierre Curie was dead; but there

renewed this year. lived another man of genius of much

Then came the announcement the same imagina

that Madame Curie tive type of mind, The manufacture of diamonds from carbon was accomplished

was to receive the named Paul Lange- several years ago by the French physicist Moisson. He sub- Nobel prize in vin; a recognized jected carbon, mixed with fragments of iron, to the intense heat

chemistry, notof an electric furnace, and then plunged the crucible containing authority in the the molten mass into cold water. The iron, expanding suddenly withstanding the study of the most as it cooled, brought about a condition of terrific pressure in fact that she had

the interior of the mass, with the result that small fragments abstruse phases of of the carbon solidified as diamonds

shared the Nobel electricity and

prize in physics magnetism; a man gifted with precisely with her husband and Professor Becquerel the sort of philosophical imagination that in 1903. The action of the Swedish AcadMadame Curie was supposed to lack. emy in thus doubly honoring the only Granted close association with such a mind, woman of science at all eligible for such distinction seemed to serve as a telling answer the intense heat of an electric furnace, to the critics who had questioned Madame whereby the carbon was liquefied. FragCurie's genius; since now—so far as the ments of iron were melted with the carbon, general public knew-her work could not and the liquid was kept at white heat (at be impugned as shining in the light of any a temperature of about 3,000 degrees Centiman's reflected glory.


grade) for from three to six minutes. It was a cruel chance that should have The crucible containing the molten mass brought to light the Langevin association in was then seized with a pair of iron tongs this hour of triumph. But come to light it and plunged suddenly into a vessel filled did, almost in the very moment when the with cold water. : We may well underNobel prize was being delivered; and so the stand Professor Moisson's assertion that he case of Madame Curie is reopened just made this experiment for the first time with when it seemed on the point of final settle- some solicitude. - It was, however, attended ment. The public learned, with something by no untoward results. But when the of surprise and more of delight, that unusual resulting mass of metal was dissolved in scientific workers may be susceptible to very boiling hydrochloric acid, fragments of carusual emotions. And the question whether bon remained. And when these fragments at the present stage of evolution a woman were variously treated with boiling acids, can develop the type of imagination that is there remained finally small crystalline essential to creative investigation in science masses that responded to the tests for remains sub judice.


The principle involved, as explained by Making Diamonds Out of Gas Professor Moisson, is dependent on the fact

that iron has the unusual property (which, IT. is familiar knowledge that the carbon however, it shares with water) of expanding

that is the chief constituent of coal and as it solidifies. Therefore, when the exone of the two constituents of carbonic-acid terior of a molten mass of iron is cooled sudgas is the substance that when purified and denly, as by plunging it into water, the crystallized is known as the diamond. Nev- subsequent solidification of the interior of ertheless, it seems rather paradoxical to re- the mass brings about a condition of terrific flect that with each breath we exhale we internal strain or pressure. Every one knows are removing from the body a substance how water freezing in a pipe may burst the that might be transformed without chemical pipe. The solidifying iron exerts enorchange into the hardest and most valuable

mous pressure on the same principle. This of minerals.

pressure is brought to bear on droplets of A report has just come from Germany molten carbon within the substance of the that a process of effecting this transforma- iron, and the carbon 'under these conditions tion has been discovered by Dr. Werner von solidifies not as ordinary graphite, but as Bolten, a chemical expert connected with diamond.. the Siemens-Halske Laboratory in Berlin. Professor Moisson had noted that iron is The process is said to be based on the de- always found in the ash of natural diacomposition of ordinary illuminating gas by monds, and that the same metal is present mercury amalgam, whereby the carbon in in considerable quantities in the characterthe gas is crystallized into diamonds. The istic blue clay of the natural diamond beds. report adds that the diamonds are extremely It was this that gave him a clue to the minute, but that their size may be in-, method that he utilized with striking succreased by introducing small bits of diamond cess in his laboratory experiments. These dust to serve as centers of crystallization. experiments, however, led to no commercial Even so, the process is still in the experi- results. The diamonds manufactured had mental stage, and the diamonds manu- a high degree of scientific interest, but were factured are not of commercial size.

not large enough to meet the requirements While the method thus outlined would of the jeweler. It remains to be seen appear to be a new one, it must be recalled whether the new method of Dr. Werner von that the feat of manufacturing diamonds Bolten will have greater success in this was accomplished several years ago by the regard. French physicist Moisson. His method was But even if it should prove possible to to subject carbon, in the form of sugar, to transform illuminating gas into diamonds of

commercial size, it is improbable that the It follows that, under ordinary conditions, market for natural diamonds will greatly the strength of the vibrations falls off at an suffer thereby. The methods of the labora- appalling rate with increased distance from tory can seldom quite duplicate the methods the source. It is a simple matter of multiof nature, and it may fairly be predicted plication to discover that a receiving stathat the artificial diamond will have some tion one mile away from an electric genpoints of distinction from the natural; just erator that is sending out messages in all as is the case with the artificial rubies that directions will receive ten thousand times are now plentifully manufactured. In the the quantity of ether waves that would be case of the ruby, to be sure, it requires an received by a station of similar dimensions expert to detect the man-made from the one hundred miles distant. It follows that natural product; but the fact that a dis- the most powerful current is presently frittinction can be made (chiefly from micro- tered away and becomes useless, exactly as scopic examination of the lines of cleavage) the rays of light from the most powerful suffices to sustain the price of the natural source would become invisible at the disgems.

tance of a few miles were they not concen

trated and sent forth in a condensed beam Marconi's New Triumph by the mirror of the searchlight.

Hitherto, it has been found exceedingly OMMENDATORE MARCONI re- difficult to concentrate the electro-magnetic

cently sent a wireless message from rays used in wireless telegraphy. If MarColtano in Italy to Newfoundland, a coni has really solved this problem, we are distance of four thousand miles. The feat a long step nearer the time when wireless has peculiar significance, not merely because telegraphy may altogether take the place of the distance covered in that regard it of the old system. has been surpassed in a few instances), but because the ethereal vibrations that con- Telephoning Through Water veyed the message were sent in a desired in every direction as is usually the case with AN interesting query arises as to the

exact course of the ether waves that wireless messages. A newly invented de- transmit the wireless message when long vice now enables Marconi, so it is claimed, distances are involved.

distances are involved. In telegraphing to concentrate the ether waves and direct from Italy to Newfoundland, for example, them somewhat as a searchlight concen- the

message is transmitted about one-sixth trates and directs ether waves of a different of the distance around the globe. As the order which we interpret as light.

earth's surface is curved, it is obvious that The importance of this new development the direct line between the points of sendwill be obvious if we reflect a moment on ing and receiving the message would pass at the conditions to be met and overcome by a a considerable depth through the structure wireless message. Ether waves of any kind, of the earth. If the electro-magnetic waves whether of the character that produce light travel in straight lines only, as rays of light or radiant heat or the electro-magnetic pul- do unless refracted or reflected, it is clear sations used in wireless telegraphy, are or- that the wireless messages must actually dinarily sent out in every direction from penetrate the earth's structure. There is their point of origin. It requires but a no reason why they should not do so, incasual observation of the conditions to see asmuch as the luminiferous ether is supthat the intensity of the vibrations must de- posed to be everywhere present as an crease inversely as the square of the distance. all-pervading medium filling the spaces be

That is to say, if a certain quantity of tween molecules and atoms. But the best light falls on a given surface one foot away opinion is that the waves are diffracted or from a source of light, only one-fourth of bent, and thus follow the curvature of the that quantity will fall on a surface of the earth. same size two feet away. Any one can That wireless messages may be conveyed roughly demonstrate this with a candle. through the water has recently been demonExactly the same thing would be true of strated by an Englishman, Mr. Shorman, pulsations used in transmitting wireless who developed an under-sea system of wiremessages.

less telephony. His invention has been

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