Madame Curie dedicates Hepburn Hall of Chemistry at St. Lawrence University

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  • wide World Pho1~s MARIE CURIE

  • MADAME MARIE CURIE DEDICATES HEPBURN HALL OF CHEM- ISTRY AT ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY*

    The Hepburn Hall of Chemistry, a gift of Mrs. Emily Eaton Hepburn of New York City, was dedicated a t St. Lawrence University, Canton, New York, on October 26,1929, by Mme. Marie Curie, co-discoverer of radium. Prior to the dedication ceremony, Mme. Curie received the honorary degree of Doctor of Science a t the hands of President Richard Eddy Sykes. Dr. George B. Pegram, professor of physics and. dean of the faculty of engineer-

    ing, Columbia Uni-

    ENROUTE TO EXERCISES Left-President R. E. Sykes. Next-Madame Curie.

    Next-Owen D. Young.

    versity, delivered the following address at this presentation.

    MR. PRESIDENT o r THE CORPORATION, MR. PRESIDENT OF T H ~ UNI- VERSITY, HONORED GUST, M E ~ E R S AND FRIENDS o r T ~ E UNIVERSITY: In trying humbly to utter on this occasion some brief appraisal of the work of the great and univer- sally honored scientist to whom this university is t o give the tribute of its honorary degree, I must dearly not attempt to speak of the whole of Madame Curie's achieve- ments and lie. Too much would need t o be said of the inspiring ex- ample of her life, of her unswerving devotion to scientific research, of her patriotic and humani- tarian service. Too much would need to be said of the consequence to knowl- edgeandtohumanwelfare.

    The theme on which I shall attempt briefly t o speak is: "Marie Curie, the dis- coverer."

    In any scientific discovery, that is, in its incidence here or there, there is an element of chance, of good fortune, of luck. It was so in the case of the chief discoveries d Madame Curie, the discoveries first of polonium and then of radium. A year earlier in Paris Professor Becquerel had discovered the property of the element wanium, of

    * The material and several of the photographs used in this account were obtained for us by Professor Vemer J. Warner of the Department ot Fine Arts, St. Lawrence University, Canton, N. Y.

    268

  • VOL. 7, No. 2 DEDICATION OF HEPBURN HALL 269

  • 270 JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION FEBRUARY, 1930

    giving off faint radiation of a new kmd, a property named radioactivity. The subject . . - . was in the air, in the scientific atmosphere, in that city. Madame Curie and her illus- trious husband could not escape it. She fell into step. Madame Curie discovered ra- dium, but any one who knows what was going on a t the time knows that if she had not made the discovery some other person would certainly have made it within a very few years. She was clearly fortunate.

    Let us compare some other discoveries. In the laboratory of the Royal Institution in London, in 1831, there worked a man who had been trained under the great master in research, Sir Humphry Davy. This man had a t his command as good a laboratory as existed in England, he had before him the experiments of Oersted and the clarifying researches of Ampere on the interaction of electric currents and magnets; he went just a step further and found that by moving a magnet he could generate an electric current. The time was ripe for this discovery. If Faraday had not dane this some one else would have done it within two or three years (our own American Professor Henry actually was doing it). From that discovery which Faraday had the good luck to make flowed the whole development of electric energy of today-pitalized now at more than forty billions of dollars, as President Hwver recently told us. Michael Faraday was for- tunate. He was lucky as to time and place.

    In 1895 a professor in Wiirzburg was working with electric discharges in highly exhausted vessels. He studied the streams of negative particles, the cathode rays of Crookes. He had hy him a card covered with crystals that were known to glow when struck by the invisible cathode rays inside an exhausted vessel. Suddenly he found that invisible and penetrating radiation came right out through the glass of the cathode ray tube and caused the screen of crystals near it to glow. The X-rays were discovered. Was not Professor Rbbtgen a lucky man? If he had not then discovered this wonderful radiation, some one else would have dane it very soon.

    In 1905 the failure of the Michelson-Morley experiment to detect any motion of the earth through the lnminiferous ether had long been discussed. Larmor in England and the great Lorentz in Holland had recently succeeded in showing that if the inter- atomic forces are electrical all bodies in motion would appear to shorten and for that reason the Michelson-Morley experiment would necessarily show no ether drift. Then came Albert Einstein, who brought forth the relativity theory by taking only a short step, but a magnificently hold one, beyond the formulation of Lorentz. Einstein was fortunate. Without Einstein the discovery of the relativity theory would surely have came within five years or less. The stage was set.

    Chance played the same part in Madame Curie's great discovery as it did with Faraday, with Riintgen, with Einstein. It played the same part as it does in the arrival of a great steamer in port. To an observer an Mars it might seem just good luck that the Mauretenia after crossing the Atlantic strikes the continent just where

    , it finds the opening of New York bay: hut we know the navigator and the pilot have guided it. Faraday had guided himself through long and zealous training to the port of discovery. Rontgen's preparation was long and thorough. Einstein had followed his zest for problems of physics through a vigorous course of training and development. Madame Curie had moved steadily toward her great feats from the time she trained her- self as a chemist under her own father's tutelage, through her selection of Paris and its university for her further training and environment, and her association in work with her distinguished husband, to the fulfilment of her self-shaped destiny.

    In the next place let us recall how simple are the truly great discoveries of science. The Copemicans discovered the very obvious fact that it is simpler to view the earth and the planets as moving around the sun than to describe the peculiar motion of the planets with reference to the earth. Galileo discovered the very simple arrangement of

  • V04. 7, NO. 2 DEDICATION OF HEPBURN HALL 271

    MAIN ENTRANCE OF HEPBURN H m OF CHEMISTRY, ST. LAWRENCE UNIVERSITY, C A ~ N , NEW YORX

    Note bas-relief of Mme. Curie at right of entrance and, opposite, that of the physicist Dalton.

  • 272 JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION F m ~ u a n v , 1930

    two lenses that makes a telescope and i t opened up the heavens. Newton's laws of mo- tion are in essence the simplest possible statement of principles in mechanics, and his identification of the force that holds the moon in its orbit with ordinary weight is sim- plicity itself. Faraday's generation of electric current by the motion of a magnet was seen by him to be a necessary and simple consequence of the magnetization of a piece of iron placed in a coil carrying a current. Rutherford pictured a nuclear or solar system atom with a central body of positive protons and some negative electrons and with relatively far-away electrons in planetary orbits about the nudeus. It is so simple a structure that when Bohr added the quantum concept to the picture the simplicity of the relations resolved a t once the tangle of the lines of the spectra and the structure of the atoms of all the chemical elements. Einstein did not, as is sometimes popularly alleged, come to glory because he achieved a theory so abstruse that few could under- stand it. Einstein recast the whole of theoretical uhysics bv a postulate, that of the . ~ . . special relativity theory, so simple, so in line with d l our experience, that the wonder is that i t was not recopnized before. The underlying idea of his general relativitv theorv . - is just as simple.

    Any one can build up valueless and patchwork theory. It is the genius of the great discoverer to discard the patchwork and to show how phenomena are to be described in terms of the fewest concepts and principles.

    Madame Curie's discovery of polonium and radium is one of the finest examples of this clear-seeing, simplifying insight of xientific genius. She saw that the newly dis- covered radioactivity was an atomic property of the element uranium, that chemical - - ~ combination with other elements did not increase or decrease it; she found also that certain uranium ores of known chemical composition were more strongly radioactive than could he accounted for by the amount of uranium present. When she put these facts together she knew that some radioactive substance other than uranium must be in the are; she knew that i t must be far more intensely radioactive than uranium be- cause i t was present in such small amount that chemical analysis had not shown it. Radium was discovered. It was separated out by ordinary chemical methods and the purification was a long and beautiful piece of work, hut the discovery itself was marked by the same direct obviousness that marked Newton's discovery of the law of gravi- tation, Faraday's discovery of induced current, Einstein's discovery of the relativity principle.

    Then there is one other mark of genius in a discaverer-the imagination to evaluate with prophetic vision the consequences of the solution of the problem to which he gives attention. Newton might well have found much else to occupy his mind than the motion of the moon, Faraday might well have kept on with his highly fruitful chemical studies instead of turning to electric circuits and magnets, Einstein might well have given up his long devotionto the problem of the experiment to detect motion through the ether-his best friends urged him to give i t np-Madame Curie could easily have kept busy with investigating the radioactivity of uranium without looking for anything a million times more radioactive than uranium. They did nat--she did not, and great discoveries came.

    While, therefore, we with the rest of the world honor our guest for her whole life, her steadfast devotion to science, her modesty-honor her as wife and mother-honor her for her unselfish eifts of means and of patriotic service, and while indeed the no- - bility of her life has been such that our admiration for her character almost draws wr attention awav from the eessentisls of her scientific works, i t is most appropriate for us -. - on this academic occasion to honor one who was fortunate because prepared, who has penetrated mysteries with the simple insight of genius, who has discerned values with prophetic imagination-to honor Marie Curie, the discnverer.

  • VOL. 7, No. 2 DEDICATION OF HEPBURN HALL 273

    Underluoud t' Underwood

    MME. CURIE IN HER LABORATORY IN TAE EARLY DAYS OP EXPERIMENTATION

  • 274 JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION FEBR~ARY, 1930

    AT THE DEDICATION EXERCISES

    Standing4wen D. Young. Seated-Mrs. Emily E. Hephurn.

    President Sykes then conferred the honorary degree on the University's distinguished guest with the following citation:

    Mme. Sklodowska Curie, self-effacing and devoted scientist, teacher, and author, exemplar of the art of living while directing to beneficent ends powerful forces of nature, single and persistent in purpose, triumphant in research, hastening the march of civiliza- tion by the discovery of radium, inspired and inspiring idealist, practical dreamer, I confer upon you the honorary degree of Doctor of Science, with all the rights and privi- leges pertaining thereto.

    These exercises concluded, the Hepburn Hall of Chemistry was presented to the University by Mrs. Emily E. Hepburn, who spoke as follows:

    St. Lawrence University is a college that is undertaking to interest its students in the important things of life. The problem is to find them, recognize them, and give them proper values. In times past a knowledge of religion, literature, Latin, and Greek were considered the essentials. Science was a dangerous subject that was attacking the re- ligious traditions of many generations. Science and religion were not congenial, and some adjustments had to be made. The word science means to know. The great truths that have been discovered by scientific investigations have placed science among the essentials of life.

    Chemistry, perhaps, has taken the lead among the Sdences. It plays an im- portant part in every phase of human life. Every article of commerce that supplies the needs of the millions of people of the world has a contact with chemistry. In order that chemistry may fulfil its mission, great experimentation must be done by students

  • VOL. 7, No. 2 DEDICATION OF HEPBURN HALL 275

    who have a keen interest in the subject. I wish to tell you of the content of a letter received by Dean Hulett, a former professor of chemistry of St. Lamence University, h m a student, prompted by the announcement of the visit of Mme. Curie to our college:

    "DEAR DEAN HULETT: "The following clipping about Mme. Curie is twenty years old. Just a few minutes

    ago I found it in my chemistry notebook record of my sophomore vear with vou in chemistry in 1909. . . .It was the result of one of your lectures o i ~ m e . and the possibility of a greater knowledge of radioactivity that might bring about somethiup; the alchemists once dreamed of-the transmutation of metals.

    "From this clipping from the magazine Science and Discovery of 1909,.I wish to quote to you from Mme. Curie's own lecture her own words.

    " 'It has been proved that radium, a perfectly definite chemical element, produces contmnally another perfectly dehite chemical element, helium. I t is admitted that helium is one of the products of the disintegration of the atom of radium and it is note- worthy that helium occurs in all the radium-bearing minerals.

    'The theory of the radioactive transformation has been extended to all the radio- active bodies. Investi~ations have been made to determine if the radioactive sub- . stances heretofore considered to be elements are not to be derived from one another.

    'The origin of radium itself has been sought in uranium. It is well known that radium is found in uranium-bearing minerals. It wen appears from recent researches that proportion between the quantities of radium and uranium is the same in all these minerals. Uranium may then be thought of as another substance which disintegrates with extreme slowness, giving place to the production of radium and the produds which succeed it. It appears also to be probable that the last term of the radioactive series is polonium.

    'Under the picture of Mme. Curie which accompanied this clipping was this statement: Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie has just attracted fresh attention to her achievements as an investigator by the isolation of polonium. In isolating it she has demomtrated the importance of what is called the new physics.' "

    Such was the quality of the teachidg of chemistry in one room in Carnegie Hall twenty years ago. There is no telling what heights chemistry may reach with the facilities afforded in Hepburn Hall.

    The coming of Mme. Curie to dedicate this Hall of Chemistry has given the students of St. Lawrence a high standard toward which they will striw. I join Mr. Hepburn in presenting to St. Lawrence University, my beloved Alma Mater, this Hall of Chemistry.

    Owen D. Young, president of the Board of Trustees, then introduced the noted scientist to the friends and students assembled.

    It is not so many months ago since I declared the corner tone of this building well and truly laid, and now I declare the building well and truly finished and ready for its dedication, and my first word must he of thanks to Mr. Hepburn, who, during his life, did so much and now today to Mrs. Hepbum who has carried on through these years in every way to help St. Lawrence. I assure her that we are grateful not only for this building, and what i t means, hut for all that she has done for this University. Certainly a science building, and particularly a chemistry building stands on this border line of the known and the unknown. So far as the students who enter it are concerned. almost everything iS unknown. So far as those who leave i t are mncemed, much is unknown. But i t also stands on the border line in another sense. From the standpoint of Madame Curie that is the line which exists between what is known and what is yet to be discovered. And so we are most fortunate taday, not only in accepting this

  • 276 JOURNAL OF CHEMICAL EDUCATION FBBRUARY, 1930

    physical building, but in being able to accept i t with the christening of the most dis- tinguished scientist living in the world today. She honors St. Lawrence by wming here. The christening which she shall give us, I promise her, will make one of our dearest and most cherished traditions from this time on, and now I have the honor of presenting this woman who has behind her all that is known and who has her face forward to all that is unknown-Madame Curie.

    And Mme. Curie's few words, spoken in English, completed the dedi- catory exercises.

    I dedicate this laboratory to scientific research in the field of chemistry. It is a pleasure as well as an honor for me to have been asked to come to St. Lawrence Uni- versity on this occasion. I appreciate highly this new important development of the University, and fully realize the need of it a t a time when physics and chemistry are in constant and amazingly rapid progress. I t gives confidence in the future of your University to know that as soon as the need has been made clear the new laboratory has been erected by the devotion of those who have been educated here. I am in sympathy with the feeling that, having received high education, one should have the de- sire to extend the same privilege to others. I also believe that pure scientific research is the true source of progress and civilization and that by creation of new centers the number of men and women who are able to devote themselves to science shall he in- creased. For all these reasons I congratulate St. Lawrence University on the opening of the new laboratory and I congratulate Mrs. Hepburn and Mr. Young for their part in this creation.

    TO MADAME CURIE*

    What age-long effort had essayed in vain This woman wrought. She loosed the Gordian knot That held the conquest of the world, and what The frustrate alchemist could ne'er attain She has achieved. She broke the primal chain That binds the elements; she touched the spot Where lies the hidden spring-and lo! the plot And secret of the universe lay plain.

    Yet what the alchemist in vain had sought For greed and dazzled by the lure of gold, She only that she might the truth unfold, Still toiling for the love of man, has wrought.

    Let all the ghosts of alchemy bow down, While on this woman's brow we set the crown.

    * Poem composed and read by Charles Kelsey Gaines, professor of English litera- ture a t St. Lawrence.