madame curie dedicates hepburn hall of chemistry at st. lawrence university

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  • wide World Pho1~s MARIE CURIE


    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.




    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



    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