Female science students get
a boost from Marie Curie
Mahbub Husain Khan
For years a group of University of Toronto graduates have been trying to repatriate the most famous female scientist in history. Now, the Marie Curie Sklodowska Association whose namesake hero was actually Polish is helping to support a whole new generation of women scientists. It was of special interest for me as I had been a student of Physics , and has been familiar with the scientific treatises of the inimitable Nobel Laureate physicist , and a torch-bearer for the women of the world. Celebrating 50 years of charitable acts, the association recently established three scholarships for female physics and chemistry students at their alma mater. Starting next year, two undergraduate students will receive $2,000 and one graduate student will receive $6,000 annually. "We are very proud, particularly because we were so well received at the university;" Adele Simpson, the association's current and founding president, told me, when I met her last month when I was visiting Toronto.
The group presented a cheque for $100,000 in December an amount that was doubled through leveraging with the school and provincial government, ensuring perpetuity. "We've just been a small group, doing our thing over the years, but we have made a difference in doing what we have;' she says. The group has supported various causes to the tune of $500,000 over the years, including 37 scholarships presented since 1966 totalling nearly $37,000. Its support has aided immigrants, seniors, street youth and the arts.
Simpson was one of about 25 graduates in 1951 belonging to the Polish Students' Club who wanted to maintain a friendship. After meeting informally for coffee at each other's homes for five years, they decided to create an official group. "We've always been motivated by our namesake," Simpson says, noting Curie was also devoted to humanitarian causes, venturing out on battlefields during World War I to help injured soldiers. But Curie is best known for receiving two Nobel prizes and discovering radium and polonium. Her husband was also a Nobel Laureate, as was one of their two daughters.
"She gave of herself while she was discovering these elements, they led to her death;' Simpson says.
"We've always felt totally inspired by her and felt that, as a woman, she was never really recognized." The scientist died in 1934 of aplastic anaemia, which is suspected to have been caused by her exposure to radiation.
The association sponsored a play called Radiation, which is performed all over the world by a group of Polish players.
Simpson says they tried to establish these scholarships at the university 25 years ago, but were told they could not specify gender. Last August when they approached the school again, the answer was different. Over the years, their annual fund-raising event evolved from a bazaar to a dinner dance, always held close to Marie Curie's Nov. 7 birthday. Ticket prices have gone from $5 to $200. Scholarships have also risen accordingly, from $100 to $2,000. With membership varying from 70 to 85 all Canadian women of Polish descent they've held countless art shows, bake sales and clothing sales over the years. The group has charitable status and members pay dues and contribute out-of-pocket.
Michael Luke, chair of University of Toronto's Physics Department, said , in a meeting with me , that they'd like to see more women science students than the current 25 per cent. "The scholarships are tremendous and I think they're going to do a good job of encouraging more women to go into the field," he says. "It's wonderful to do three scholarships, but both at the undergraduate and graduate level is a wonderful thing for us."
I think the universities of our country should encourage the alumni to organise such scholarships to support meritorious students including women students, naming them after geniuses in all fields of human endeavour such as the physicist Satyen Bose who was a teacher at the Dhaka University till 1947.