Let There Be Science, Kids And a Good Life

by Patricia McBroom

Professor Hlne Langevin-Joliot, a nuclear physicist and granddaughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, who won the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics for their work on radioactivity, told a campus audience that women need more encouragement to enter science.

It isn't enough to just allow women to have good jobs in research, "we must tell more," said Langevin-Joliot. "It is important to say that you can have an interesting job and a good life."

Langevin-Joliot, whose parents also shared a Nobel Prize, carried her legacy with grace and humility before a standing-room-only crowd in Wheeler Hall's Maude Fife Room Feb. 11. The next day, she spoke on the centenary of the discovery of radioactivity in a chemistry department lecture hosted by Nobel Laureate Glenn Seaborg.

She said she had no secret magic for drawing women into scientific research, but the stories she told about her parents and grandparents left no doubt about her message to women: "You can have happy children, a husband you love and still do good science."

"If you choose to have six children, maybe you cannot do it," but for one to three, "it is quite possible," said the 69-year-old professor emeritus of nuclear physics and chemistry at the University of Paris. She has two children.

Although Langevin-Joliot could see no barrier in combining science and family, she did see difficulty in coping with societal demands to work harder and harder every year just to compete.

"This is not good for young men and it is worse for young women," she said. "I see young people not taking even one week of vacation. My parents took two months."

She recalled her father saying at one point, "We've been in the lab too long. It's much better now to go skiing and think about this."

Marie and Pierre Curie did "killing work," she said, during their legendary effort to isolate radium from tons of pitchblende. Wrote Marie Curie: "Sometimes I had to spend a whole day stirring a boiling mass with a heavy iron rod nearly as big as myself."

Langevin-Joliot takes eight weeks vacation herself, as did her mother and grandmother. "Always, it is necessary to give the imagination room to work, to take time to dream."


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