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Monthly, March 2022
Marie Curie in the laboratory.
Inspirational women
Six Nobel women in focus

Marie Curie
Pioneering research on radiation
Marie Curie. Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
Marie Skƚodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, to a family of teachers who believed strongly in education. She moved to Paris to continue her studies and there met Pierre Curie, who became both her husband and colleague in the field of radioactivity. Marie Curie’s relentless resolve and insatiable curiosity made her an icon in the world of modern science. She discovered polonium and radium, championed the use of radiation in medicine and fundamentally changed our understanding of radioactivity. The Curies shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. Marie Curie is still the only individual who has been awarded Nobel Prizes in physics as well as chemistry (in 1911).

Discover more about Marie Curie

Frances Arnold
Conducted the first directed evolution of enzymes
Frances Arnold. Photo: A. Mahmoud
“Summers were heaven, but the school years in Pittsburgh were another story. No one knew what to do with a smart little girl in the 1960s. … By age 13 I was pretty much fed up with classroom learning.” In her biography, Frances Arnold describes how a diversity of experiences shaped her during her early years and tells her story: from being a taxi driver, to a professor of chemical engineering, to becoming a Nobel Prize laureate. With an ingenious idea and years of subsequent work, she turned bioengineering upside down, and pioneered the use of directed evolution to design enzymes, with applications as broad as they are essential, from drugs to renewable fuels. Arnold was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Read Frances Arnold’s story

Barbara McClintock
Discovered mobile genetic elements, “jumping genes”
Barbara McClintock. Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
In the 1950s Barbara McClintock discovered ‘jumping genes’ in corn and proved that chunks of genetic code can change position on a chromosome, affecting genetic expression. Her discoveries were so far beyond the understanding of the time that other scientists ignored her work for more than a decade. But she persisted, trusting herself and her evidence. Not until 1983 was she awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Discover more about Barbara McClintock

Svetlana Alexievich
Gave voice to the post-Soviet individual
Svetlana Alexievich. Photo: A. Mahmoud
As early as during her school days Svetlana Alexievich wrote poetry and contributed articles to the school newspaper. She tried her voice in various genres, such as the short story, essay, and reportage, but later she created a literary non-fiction genre that is entirely her own. She writes “novels of voices”, using interviews with a wide range of subjects to create a tapestry of reportage. In her works, Alexievich depicts life during and after the Soviet Union through the experience of individuals. She was awarded the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time.”

Read Svetlana Alexievich’s biography

Emily Greene Balch
Leader of the American peace movement
Emily Greene Balch. Photo from the Nobel Foundation archive.
Emily Greene Balch was awarded the 1946 Nobel Peace Prize for her lifelong work for disarmament and peace. The sociologist Balch studied the living conditions of workers, immigrants, minorities and women, and this resulted in her declaring herself a socialist as early as 1906. After the outbreak of World War I she became convinced that her lifework lay in furthering humanity’s effort to rid the world of war, and she worked to persuade the heads of state of neutral countries to intervene to stop the war. In 1935, Balch became the leader of the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.

Read the biography of Emily Greene Balch

Esther Duflo
Used economics to help us fight global poverty
Esther Duflo. Photo: A. Mahmoud.
“I was fortunate to be made aware at a very early age of the diversity of life circumstances in the world. My mother volunteered across the world, helping children who were victims of war.” Esther Duflo wanted to change something in the world – but didn’t know what that would be. While studying in Russia, she realised that studying economics was needed to be useful in the world. One of her first classes was development economics – and after one lecture she was hooked. In 2019 Esther Duflo was awarded the prize in economic sciences for her work fighting poverty. She was the second woman and youngest person to be awarded this prize.

Monthly Quiz

An unshared Nobel Prize
Of the 224 individuals awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 12 are women. Of them, only one has received an unshared prize. Do you know who it is? Make a guess and click to submit your answer.
Barbara McClintock
May-Britt Moser
Tu Youyou

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