Tag Archives: Marie

Hurricane Marie is increasing in strength off the coast of California

NASA announces that Hurricane Marie, off the Californian coast, is rapidly growing more intense.

Image credits: NOAA.

Infrared images captured by the Agency’s satellites show that the hurricane’s eye is surrounded by massive thunderstorms as Marie makes its way through the Eastern Pacific. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Hurricane Center (NOAA – NHC) says Marie will grow to become a major hurricane sometime on the 1st of October.

Along comes Marie

“Recent microwave data and satellite images indicate that Marie has become much better organized over the past several hours, with a nearly completely closed eye noted in a (12:51 a.m. EDT) 0451Z AMSU composite microwave overpass,” explained NHC Hurricane Specialist Andrew Latto at 5 a.m. EDT on Oct 1.

One of the main tools we have to monitor hurricanes is infrared sweeps performed by NASA’s satellites. These images can be used to infer local temperatures throughout the storm, and this, in turn, can be used to determine where it rages the strongest (stronger storms reach higher into the troposphere, making their upper layers colder).

NASA’s Aqua satellite found that the strongest storms coalesce around Hurricane Marie’s center, where temperatures reached negative 62 Celsius (-80 Fahrenheit). Clouds with upper temperatures of around minus 56.6 Celsius (-70 degrees Fahrenheit) surround these central storms.

Such temperatures suggest cold storms that can create a lot of rain, NOAA adds. At a.m. EDT (0900 UTC), the center of Hurricane Marie was located around 1,245 km (775 mi) southwest of the southern tip of Baja California, Mexico, and moving at a steady 28 km/h (17 mph). NOAA expects it to continue on its path and speed until tomorrow when it will turn west-northwest and slow down.

The maximum sustained wind speed in the storm is around 150 km/h (90mph), NOAA adds, with hurricane-force winds extending up to 30km (15 mi) out from the center, and tropical-storm-force winds extending up to 110 km (70 miles) away.

From paleontology to radioactivity: 5 Amazing Women Scientists

Some of the greatest discoveries and contributions to humanity’s knowledge and understanding have been made by women scientists. These were revolutionary female role models with passions and smarts who would prove that it did not have to be a man’s world. And they would prove much more than that.

Mary Anning: Fossil Hunter

Mary Anning – Paleontologist

Mary Anning (1799-1847) is best known as an early paleontologist, and a female paleontologist to boot, making her a very unique character in her century. The Anning family lived on the southern shores of England. Mary’s father, Richard, was known to collect fossils from time to time. He died in 1810, leaving behind only the skills of fossil hunting to his poor family.

About 1811, young Mary Anning at age twelve, came upon the fossilized remains of a prehistoric sea-dwelling creature later called an ichthyosaur. This was the very first time anyone had reported finding such a specimen; it was the first recorded ichthyosaur to have been unearthed! A bit later on in her career, Mary was also accredited with discovering the first specimen of what is now known as Plesiosaurus, another long since extinct sea animal. Paleontology owes this young lady a debt of gratitude.

Sonia Bleeker: Field Researcher and Author

Sonia Bleeker and Herbert Zim

Sonia Bleeker (1909-1971), born in Russia, performed graduate anthropology work at Columbia University, the college her future spouse Herbert S. Zim attended. In 1934, the year following her graduation from Hunter College, the couple were married. Starting in 1931, Sonia was an editor for Simon and Schuster for fifteen years. This woman was an amazing anthropologist (a person who studies cultures and societies). Her particular fascination was the study of native tribes living in the Americas as well as Africa. Her first book was published in 1950, entitled Indians of the Longhouse. Most of her books required research in the field which meant she spent a good deal of time on continents including South America, Europe, and Africa.

Sonia’s husband, Herbert Zim, was a writer and consultant on almost all of the nonfiction informative books in the Golden Guide series. In 1967, Sonia Bleeker was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Science from Beloit College in Wisconsin. She passed away just four years later. Sonia and Herbert were a couple truly made for each other. Both were talented scientists and writers, and they traveled together frequently. It is unfortunate that this woman is probably the least renowned of all of the women mentioned in this article.

Maria Agnesi: Faith-Filled Woman of Many Sciences

Maria Agnesi

The earliest female scientist to be discussed here, Maria Gaetana Agnesi (1718-1799) was a bright (if not brilliant) child raised in a faithful Catholic family. By age five, the girl could speak clearly in both Italian and French, and she would go on to learn a handful of other languages. While still living at home, Maria served as an exemplar as well as a tutor for her younger siblings.

Apparently, at the age of nine, the girl gave a speech in Latin to some of her father’s visiting friends. It turned out to be a thesis arguing that women have the right to be educated, and she was right. In her day many women were able to be publicly involved in the fields of art, literature, and some of the sciences. Pietro, Maria’s father, had a collection of her essays published under the title Propositiones Philosophicae. The sciences that she touched upon in her papers included elasticity, gravitation, chemistry, botany, and zoology. Pope Benedict XIV made her a professor of mathematics, natural philosophy, and physics at Bologna University. Laura Maria Caterina Bassi was the first woman professor of a university, and Maria Agnesi had the honor of being the second.

Marie Curie: Scientist Who Studied Uranium and Paid for It

Marie Curie – Physicist

Born in Poland, Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867-1934) was a physicist along with her husband Pierre Curie. The pair of scientists worked closely together on numerous tests of various elements. They are responsible for discovering that a dark black and brown rock, the uranium ore pitchblende, gave off significantly more radioactivity than uranium in its pure form.

The Curies deduced pitchblende had to be made up of other substances as well, substances which were more radioactive than plain uranium. Following four years of work, in 1902 they had successfully isolated two entirely new elements: radium and polonium. The Curies did not know about many of the harmful effects of radioactivity. Pierre died in 1906. When Marie passed away almost three whole decades later, the cause of death was leukemia which had resulted from radiation exposure. Both Marie and her husband are remembered for their huge contributions to science, but they eventually paid the price of their fame.

Jane Goodall: Woman Among Apes

Dr. Jane Goodall

Perhaps the most famous primatologist (person who studies primates) and the most famous female scientist given in this list, Dr. Jane Goodall is last but not least of all of the scientists mentioned here. It is almost ironic that primatologist Goodall was born in 1934, the very same year that physicist Marie Curie died. Goodall is a living legend. For decades she has lived among apes, observing their behavior from a close perspective. Evidently, Goodall was inspired during her childhood by stories such as those of Tarzan and Doctor Dolittle. It is also interesting to note that the original 1949 film version of Mighty Joe Young (a tale about an ape which grows to extraordinary size and whose keeper is a kind-hearted young woman) was released when she was a teenager.

This also may have had some sort of influence. Interestingly enough, she never attended college for the scientific field in which she is now the expert. From her humble beginnings, she eventually achieved her dream of traveling to Africa and being able to study animals (especially chimps) in their natural environment. She found that primates were intelligent animals living in complex social clusters. Her findings finally saw the light of day in a film documentary produced by National Geographic in the 1960’s.

She does not like apes being depicted in fiction and pop culture. She founded the Jane Goodall Institute, and she serves as a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations. These five stunning examples of bold women scientists go to show that sex has nothing to do with the beauty of a mind. It also is certainly not a factor of what a person is capable of.

A radioactive couple: the glowing legacy of the Curies

A motif present in virtually all Balkan countries’ folklore is that of the creator sacrificing part of himself for his work. In Romanian folklore, this theme surfaces in the story “Meşterul Manole“, who immured his wife in the walls of the monastery he was tasked with building. I couldn’t help but remember that story as I was reading about the Curies, who laid the groundwork on which our understanding of radioactivity is based.

Marie and Pierre Curie.
Image via Wikimedia, author unknown.

Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, was the daughter of a secondary-school teacher. She received a general education in local schools with some scientific training from her father. In 1891, she went to Paris to continue her studies at the Sorbonne University where she obtained Licentiateship in Physics and Mathematical Sciences. There, she met Professor of Physics Pierre Curie and in 1895 they got married.

But that’s just context — this story starts in 1895, when German physicist Wilhelm Roentgen discovered X-Rays but couldn’t uncover the mechanisms by which they formed. One year later, in 1896, French Nobel Laureate Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts spontaneously emit radiation very similar to X-Rays and proved that they originate from the uranium atoms.

Uranite (or pitchblende) crystals from Topsham, Maine.
Image via wikipedia, credits to Rob Lavinsky.

Intrigued by these findings, Marie started her own research on pitchblende, today sought-after as an uranium ore. Using a version of the electrometer that her husband had developed fifteen years earlier, she discovered that the “uranium rays” caused the air around the samples to simply conduct electricity. Using this method, she observed that the pitchblende with higher uranium content would give off stronger radiation. She also recorded this behavior in minerals containing thorium.

Then one day, as she was performing radioactivity measurements on a samples of pitchblende, she recorded a much higher radioactivity than its uranium content would allow for — and there’s no thorium in pitchblende. The only explanation was the presence of another, unknown radioactive element. This is when Pierre, excited by the idea of discovering a new element, put his own research aside and started working with Marie.

The two would go on to discover Polonium, named for Marie’s home country, and Radium, from the Latin word for ray, in 1898. They also coined the term “radioactivity” to describe the effects seen by Becquerel. Either together or separately, they published more than 32 papers, including the first paper to describe how tumors can be destroyed by exposure to radium. Their work attacked the previously held beliefs that atoms are indivisible.

Their work wasn’t even sponsored by the University, the couple drawing on private, corporate and government funds. Unaware of the dangers they were exposing themselves to, they worked either in their home laboratory or out in a converted, leaky shed next to the School of Physics and Chemistry. They wore no protective gear, just woefully inadequate lab coats.

Their achievements and vision helped shape the world as we know it. But as Uncle Ben used to say, “with great scientific results comes great genetic damage by processes you don’t yet fully understand,” or something close to that.

The Curies’ work literally bathed them in radiation, day in and day out for decades. They handled samples without any care or protective gear. They took the pieces of radium they were able to refine — and today we know this is the most radioactive element in the periodic table — in their bare hands to examine. Even when she wasn’t in the lab, Marie carried her passion with her: she would have test tubes of radioisotopes in her pocket or stashed in her desk drawer.

Radium clock-hands from 1940-1950’s watches.
Image credits Mauswiesel.

The Curies knew about radioactivity but had no idea of the damage it was wreaking on them. Their research attempted to find out which substances were radioactive and why, so many dangerous elements–thorium, uranium, plutonium–were just sitting there in their home laboratory.

“One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles or capsules containing our products. It was a really lovely sight and one always new to us,” she wrote in her autobiography.

“The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.”

Pierre died 19 April 1906, aged 46, run over by horse-drawn carriage on a rainy day in Paris. Marie continued their research and had several breakthroughs. She died at age 66 in 1934 from aplastic anemia, believed to be an effect of her prolonged exposure to radioactive materials.

Now, researching any famous historical figure is a daunting task, and there are mountains of obstacles to overcome if you want to get your hands on any of their papers or objects. But in the Curies’ case, it’s actually dangerous to do so. Because of how they worked, their papers, clothes, pretty much every worldly possession is still dangerously radioactive — and will be for at least 1,500 years to come. If you want to look at her manuscripts at France’s Bibliotheque Nationale, you first have to sign a liability waiver. Only then can you access the papers, which are stored in a lead-lined box.

Marie Curie’s manuscript. A book to die for. Literally.
Image credits The Wellcome Trust.

Their house remained in use up to 1978 by the Institute of Nuclear Physics of the Paris Faculty of Science and the Curie Foundation. Authorities finally became aware of how insanely dangerous it was when people in their neighborhood, suffering from very high rates of cancer, blamed the Curies’ home. The building and laboratory were decontaminated in 1991.

Marie Curie was an incredibly gifted person, and her achievements speak for themselves. From a humble birth, she was to become the first woman to ever hold the position of Professor at the University of Paris, the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the first and only woman to win it twice, the only person to have ever received the award in different fields of research and the first woman to be entombed for her merits at the Panthéon in Paris. Pierre was a pioneer in the fields of crystallography, magnetism and piezoelectricity, in addition to his work with Marie, for which he jointly received the Nobel Award.

Together, these two brilliant people forever changed how we understand the world we live in. They did so at a huge cost, with incredible levels of radiation exposure, that would in the end claim Marie’s life. But by tackling some of the deadliest forces known to man with their bare hands, they earned life unending in the scientific community.