Radiating Talent | The Reader's Guide Feature | Chicago Reader

Radiating Talent 

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Manya Sklodowska was born in 1867, the fifth child of a poor physics professor in Russian-controlled Poland. An adept science student, she was shut out of college in Warsaw because she was a girl; instead, she went to work as a governess in order to support her sister, a medical student in Paris. At 24 Sklodowska managed to get to Paris herself, where she gained access to a rudimentary lab and studied at the Sorbonne. She picked radiation as the subject for her doctoral thesis, figuring so little had been written about it that the research would be streamlined, and when the project began to show promise, her husband, Pierre--who ran the lab--joined her in it. Before long they had a Nobel Prize (awarded in 1903) and two children, but their success was quickly followed by her husband's fatal run-in with a horse-drawn carriage. When the young widow, by then the first female professor at the Sorbonne, applied for membership in the prestigious French Academy of Science she was accused of being a Jew, a foreigner, and a home wrecker. A married associate--her alleged boyfriend--fought a duel for her honor and the academy turned her down, but the scandal didn't keep the Swedes from awarding her a second prize in 1911. For the next 60 years she remained the only double Nobel recipient: her discoveries of radium and polonium revolutionized concepts of atomic structure and medical research. She died of leukemia in 1934--a victim of her own research--and her ashes were eventually buried alongside the remains of other French heroes in the Pantheon. Short of a visit there, the most appropriate place to appreciate her may be Fermilab, where Manya: The Living History of Marie Curie, a one-woman dramatization written and performed by Susan Marie Frontczak, will be presented at 8 PM on Saturday, April 17, in Wilson Hall. Fermilab is at Kirk and Pine in Batavia. (From I-88, exit north at Farnsworth; use the west entrance.) Tickets are $15, $8 for students 18 and under; call 630-840-2787.

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