There may never be another Marie Curie, RSC President warns

17 June 2011

We may never see another female scientist heroine like Marie Curie unless we inspire more girls to study science, the President of the Royal Society of Chemistry warned last night.

Professor Phillips made his remarks last night at an event celebrating women in science at the Paris headquarters of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

He also decried the lack of a television science role model, as popular science programming has been dominated by men such as Brian Cox and David Attenborough.

"We're celebrating the legacy of heroines of science tonight, in the International Year of Chemistry. 100 years ago Marie Curie was awarded her Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 100 years' time we need to be able to celebrate many more outstanding science heroines.

"But as things stand, there may never be another Marie Curie - school-age girls are only half as likely as boys to wish to take up science. With more girls wanting to work in a TV studio than a laboratory, we have an obligation to inspire them to scientific pursuits.

"Perhaps they can embrace their television ambitions as science presenters, and encourage yet more young people to study science. Had she been born 100 years later, perhaps Marie Curie herself would now be a science celebrity and role model alongside David Attenborough," Professor Phillips said.

Earlier this year the RSC polled 500 school children, and found that boys were twice as likely as girls to want to work in a scientific environment.

According to the poll almost a quarter of boys want to become scientists, making it their most popular career target.

Girls were only half as likely, with working in a zoo, TV studio or educational setting being more likely than as a scientist.

Curie, the chemist who remains the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes and the only person ever two win two different sciences Prizes, was voted greatest female scientist in a poll conducted by New Scientist.

Despite her success Curie was refused access to the French Academy of Sciences in 1911. One of her doctoral students, Marguerite Perey, became the first female member of the Academy over half a century later, in 1962.

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