Madame Curie exhibition at Stockholm Nobel Museum

How important was Marie Curie, and is she a role model to women in science today? These are some of the questions raised by the team behind the Marie Curie exhibition at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm during their initial discussions about the exhibition.

2011 marked the 100th anniversary of Marie Curie’s acceptance of the Nobel prize in chemistry, and it was also the international year of chemistry. The exhibition, titled Marie Skłodowska or Madame Curie, was the museum’s input into the celebrations.

Marie Skłodowska / Madame Curie

The museum wanted to showcase Curie’s struggles as a woman in science, and how she coped with them. This self-produced exhibition, which opened 17 September last year, will take you on an extraordinary journey to explore Curie’s achievements, her experiences as a woman researcher in a male-dominated industry, as well as her amazing scientific discoveries.

As you enter the display, you will see a video of Curie stirring a huge pot shown on a screen that is placed in the middle of the exhibition space. On the right, there are several banners that tell stories of Curie’s life as a female scientist. You will also be able to learn more about Curie’s work on atoms and radioactivity. To get more personal with this outstanding scientist, watch and listen to an interview with Curie’s granddaughter Hélène Langevin-Joliot, who is a french nuclear physicist, about their relationship.

Interviews with female chemists

To answer the questions that were raised in the early planning stage, the museum interviewed nine chemists from Sweden, Poland and France, selecting three from each country. So what do they think of Curie as a role model?

“For the french and polish women, Marie Curie was definitely a role model,” said the museum’s education officer Åsa Husberg. “But that was not the case for the swedish women who felt that even [though] they where definitely impressed by her, she lived too long ago [to be considered] a role model.”

Ms Husberg also asked the women to describe Curie in three words: “The french and the polish mentioned ‘mother’…but not the swedish.” She thinks that the reason for this could be because the swedish have come a long way in ensuring equality between men and women.

During Curie’s time, very few women succeeded in the field of science. Among the nine chemists, eight of them think that it is more difficult for a woman to do well as a researcher compared to men. They cited having to juggle between work and family, and negative attitudes towards women as some of the problems they face as women in science.

Although the result of the survey is not a representation of the whole science community, it gives an interesting insight into the mindset of some of the women in science.

The Madame Curie exhibition will be displayed until 29 April 2012.

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