Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Knowledge and power

A review (Nature March 10, 2005) of a new biography of Marie Curie points out that her personal papers, which have been accessible to researchers for more than a decade, are still slightly radioactive. A scientist of prodigious determination, Curie chemically isolated from tons of ore a tiny amount of a new element, radium, that glowed with a mysterious light that had its origin in the transformation of matter into radiant energy. This is the very transformation that makes the universe blaze with light and life, and which lit the sky above Alamogordo, New Mexico, on July 16, 1945. Two times a Nobel laureate, she suffered terribly and died of radiation poisoning.

Adrienne Rich has a poem about Marie Curie, which ends with these lines:
She died   a famous woman   denying
her wounds
her wounds came from the same source as her power.