150th birthday of Marie Skłodowska-Curie: Speech by Martine Reichert, Director General of DG EAC, European Commission | Marie Curie Alumni Association

150th birthday of Marie Skłodowska-Curie: Speech by Martine Reichert, Director General of DG EAC, European Commission

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Celebrating the 150th anniversary from Marie Curie's birth, CERN, the University of Liverpool and the University of Munich, coorganised a multi-site event. Martine Reicherts, Director General DG EAC at European Commision, gave a landmark speech to honour Marie Skłodowska-Curie's life and stress the importance of the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions Programme. Below, you can see the video and also read the speech. 

Video message by Martine Reicherts

Marie Skłodowska-Curie

Hello everybody,

Let me start by telling you a short story about Marie Skłodowska-Curie whose birthday we celebrate today.

150 years ago a baby girl was born in Warsaw, in the then Kingdom of Poland, at the time part of the Russian empire. Her name was Maria Salomea Skłodowska. Most of us know of her today as Marie Curie, a brilliant Nobel laureate, who lived and worked in Paris; beyond this our knowledge usually fades.

But who was Marie Skłodowska Curie? How did she fit in her world? How was her world?

The world during Maria's time was going through the most dramatic rapid changes ever. At the time of her birth there was no electricity, no anaesthesia, no airplanes, no cars, no refrigerators and life expectancy was around 40 years. Empires collapsed and disappeared through wars and revolutions. And the natural sciences were set to go through their most incredible voyages of discovery ever.

But more than anything else Maria's world was a man's world, a historical creation of men, for men, oppressing for women, a sordid tradition going back thousands of years. Women in Maria's world were in every imaginable sense below men. Girls could not realistically hope for any kind of distinction; they were mostly kept uneducated and had less rights then men. The doors to the temples of science, where Maria from early on was determined to live, were almost hermetically shut for women who were considered, by society in general, as being by nature less able than men in everything, especially in science.

In such a world there was absolutely no reason to assume that Maria, or any other Maria of her time, would be able to achieve anything significant, or even worth mentioning, certainly not in the merciless male world of natural sciences in which the exposure of every error or weakness in anyone's work is a way of life.

But by the time this girl reached the age of 44 she could look at most men, most scientists for sure, fairly as lesser achievers.

She had discovered and isolated two new elements featuring in the periodic table, Polonium and Radium. She had discovered radioactivity. She had won two Nobel prizes in two different disciplines, the first ever person of only two persons to ever achieve this; and was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize at the age of 37 when the average age for such an award is even today 56. She was invited and welcomed to the company of the greatest physicists ever, such as Einstein, Dirac, Pauli, Heisenberg, De Broglie, Bohr, Plank just to mention a few.

She was passionately in love with knowledge and practiced a characteristic indifference to riches. She invented imaging technology to photograph the interior of the human body which is so useful in medicine. And she went and applied this invention at her own expense to save wounded soldiers. She refused to patent her radium isolation method in order to allow other scientists to work freely with it. Luxuries left her coldly uninterested. All this and more.

She shined as bright as any in science while being wife, mother and later widow with children.

Every age and every society has its heroic examples serving as models of what human beings can and should thrive to be. They invariably set the bar very high for most of us, but at the same time serve as moral compasses, the lighthouses towards which we sail and from which we get inspired. Marie Skłodowska-Curie, despite being a woman in a man's world, fulfilled the heroic requirement.

We are celebrating the 150th anniversary of her birth, as she has deservedly and in a positive way achieved the only kind of immortality possible for humans: to be remembered with admiration.

 

The MSCA

Let me now turn very briefly to the Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions.

It is a programme which financially supports researchers in doing the research they choose to do asking of them two things: to be excellent in their research and to do it in another country.

Thus we help them collaborate and learn from each other and also gain from the experience of living and working in and with different cultures.

The Marie Skłodowska Curie Actions are different to almost all research support programmes anywhere because they allow the researchers to choose what to do instead of asking them to do what their financial supporters want them to do.

We remain loyal to the spirit of Marie Curie. We do not discriminate in any form or shape, certainly not against women. In this sense our track record is exemplary. Whilst in general only about 30% of researchers are women for our programme they are above 40% and rising. We reward excellence regardless of anything else and  require researchers to work abroad, just like Marie Skłodowska Curie did. There is an aspect to our programme is rarely mentioned. The beneficiaries, more than 100 thousand by now, by working abroad are becoming the builders of a European identity. This feeling of identity may be needed today much more than we realise or admit and may become a reality through the experience of living the cultural diversity of Europe much like a Marie Skłodowska Curie fellow. In this sense MSCA is also a political project.

I will leave you to continue with the celebrations by expressing our gratitude towards CERN, the University of Liverpool and the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich for organising this birthday party and my feeling of hope that the next generation of researchers and European citizens is being incubated with the help of MSCA.

Have a great day!

 

 


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