International Year of the Periodic Table – Women and the Table

The first name that comes to mind is most likely Marie Skłodowska Curie, for her pioneering research in radioactivity, her co-discovery of the elements radium and polonium, and her Nobel Prizes. But she’s far from the only one whose work is tied to the periodic table, either through the discovery or research on the elements. Marguerite Perey discovered francium, the last of the naturally occurring elements to be discovered. Ida Tacke-Noddack co-discovered the element rhenium with husband Walter Noddack and Otto Berg, and was the first to suggest what would be later known as nuclear fission. Lise Meitner, who many feel was excluded from sharing the 1944 Nobel Prize in Chemistry in nuclear fission with Otto Hahn, co-discovered protactinium-231 with Hahn in 1917.

This year several articles have been published to spotlight Curie, Meitner, and others who contributed to our understanding of the elements, some of whom did not credit for their work at the time.

  • Celebrate the women behind the periodic table (Nature) –  Brigitte Van Tiggelen and Annette Lykknes highlight Curie, Meitner, Noddack, and Perey, as well as Julia Lermontova (one of Mendeleev’s contemporaries and the first woman to receive a doctorate in chemistry), Stefanie Horowitz (who proved the existence of isotopes in 1914), Harriet Brooks (who with her advisor Ernest Rutherford wrote “The New Gas from Radium,” which was later identified as radon), Darleane Hoffman (who discovered plutonium-244 in nature), Dawn Shaughnessy (leader of the American team involved in the discovery of the elements 113-118), among others.
    • Also, a comment to the article mentioning three more women (Cauchois, Karlik and Traude Bernertfor their work on astatine.
  • In their element: women of the periodic table (Science in School). Van Tiggelen and Lykknes contributed a feature on Science in School:Here they highlight two women who precede Lermontova: Marie Lavoisier (Antoine’s wife and collaborator), and textbook author Jane Marcet. They also profiled  Ellen Gleditsch, the subject of Lykknes’ PhD thesis.
  • Women in Chemistry: Heroes of the Periodic Table (ACS Reactions) – video highlighting Curie and Noddack.
  • The Discovery of Radium – part 1 and part 2 (Royal Society of Chemistry) – a mini comic about the Curies’ discovery, from Jim Ottaviani and Metraphrog.
  • Like The Periodic Table? Thank Female Scientists (Science 2.0) – another “highlight” blog post.

Further reading. See the library catalog for additional works about Marie Curie, Lise Meitner, Harriet Brooks,

Women in Their Element: Selected Women’s Contributions To The Periodic System / edited by Annette Lykknes and  Brigitte Van Tiggelen
World Scientific, 2019 (forthcoming)
Print book with 38 profiles
European Women in Chemistry / edited by Jan Apotheker and Livia Simon Sarkadi
Wiley, 2011
Ebook with 54 profiles
A Devotion to Their Science: Pioneer Women of Radioactivity / edited by Marelene F. Rayner-Canham and Geoffrey W. Rayner-Canham
Chemical Heritage Foundation and McGill University Press, 1997
Ebook with 23 profiles, divided by French, British, and Austro-German
Out of the Shadows : Contributions of Twentieth-Century Women to Physics / edited by Nina Byers and Gary Williams
Cambridge University Press, 2006
Print book (QC15 .O94 2006) with 40 profiles
For Better or For Worse? Collaborative Couples in the Sciences / edited by Annette Lykknes, Donald L. Opitz, Brigitte Van Tiggelen
Springer, 2012
Ebook with 9 chapters