Friday, November 20, 2009

Marie Curie and two American Presidents

I admit it – when I was looking up the information for my last series of posts, I got distracted looking at other winners in all the fields (I had to find my personal favorite....actually not a US President, so if you are really curious, you'll have to check out my personal blog), but I found a fun little connection to share, so hey, I can call it productive time!

Marie Curie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on spontaneous radiation She shared this award with her husband and Antoine Henri Becquerel. Madame Curie actually also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for her work in radioactivity.

Madame Curie is best known for her work with radium, but she refused to patent it or its application and its price skyrocketed and she was unable to obtain the supplies she needed for her experiments. So an American woman, Mrs. W.B. Meloney, launched a campaign to raise money to by the radium for her. To receive the radium, Madame Curie and her daughters came to the US. On May 20, 1921, President Harding presented her with one gram of radium (worth $100,000) at the White House (well, they didn’t bring the radium to the White House, but it was well represented).

Madame Curie came back to the US in 1929 to receive another gift of radium from the US and this time was presented with a check for $50,000 (the price had dropped by half in 8 years) from President Hoover to buy the radium. This visit was overshadowed by the stock market crash two days earlier, but Hoover did still take the time to meet with Madame Curie.

Here are his remarks upon the presentation:
I am sure that I represent the whole American people when I express our gratification to Madame Curie that she should have honored our country by coming here. We give to her the welcome of a people who are grateful for the beneficent service she has given to all mankind.
It is not necessary for me to recount the great fundamental discovery associated with the names of her late husband and herself. The discovery of radium was an outstanding triumph of research in the realm of pure science. It was indeed a great and successful exploration into the unknown from which a new truth has brought to the world a practical revolution in our conceptions of substance. It has advanced all thought on the constitution of matter. And like all great discoveries of fundamental substance and fact it has found application to human use. In the treatment of disease, especially of cancer, it has brought relief of human suffering to hundreds of thousands of men and women.

As an indication of the appreciation and the respect which our people feel for Madame Curie, generous-minded men and women under the leadership of Mrs. William B. Meloney have provided the funds with which a gram of radium is to be purchased and presented to the hospital and research institute which bears her name in Warsaw. The construction of this hospital was a magnificent tribute by the city of her birth and the Polish people, in which the American people are glad to have even this opportunity of modest participation. The whole of this occasion where we pay tribute to a great scientist is again a recognition of the fundamental importance of scientific research and a mark of public appreciation of those who have given their lives to human service through its profession.

Madame Curie’s remarks are also recorded [I’m including these because I rather liked her mention of President Hoover’s humanitarian work]:
Mr. President, Dr. Welch [of John Hopkins], ladies and gentlemen:
I am conscious of my indebtedness to my friends in America, who for the second time, with great kindness and understanding, have gratified one of my dear wishes. My work is very much my life, and I have been made happy by your generous support of it.

I feel deeply the importance of what has been said by the President of the United States about the value of pure science; this has been the creed of my life. Scientific research has its great beauty and its reward in itself; and so I have found happiness in my work.

It has been, however, an additional as well as an unexpected happiness to know that my work could be used for relief in human suffering.

I do not believe that I deserve all the praise that has been given me, but I highly value the friendly feeling expressed by the President and by Dr. Welch.

Mr. President, in my native land your name is revered for having saved, by your humanitarian work, a large part of the young generation. Your kind work of today will add to the gratitude of the Polish people toward you.

In accepting this precious gift, which will hasten the opening of the radium institute in Warsaw, I offer you and my American friends my most profound thanks. My laboratory in Paris will keep in close relation to the Warsaw institute, and I will like to remember the American gifts of radium to me as a symbol of enduring friendship binding your country to France and to Poland.

I hope you've all enjoyed all little sojourn through Presidential Nobel Prize history and we will be sure to share President Obama's Nobel Lecture when he gives it this winter.

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