Recommended for ages 12+
Most of us know who Marie Curie was: the scientist who pioneered the study of radioactivity. But how many know that her daughter, Irène, was an accomplished scientist in her own right, whose studies on radioactivity, physics, and the transmutation of elements earned her a Nobel prize, shared with her husband? Have you heard of Lise Meitner, the physicist whose work in physics – often published in conjunction with her friend and research partner, Otto Hahn – led to the discovery of nuclear fission? She was passed over for a Nobel for several reasons, not the least of which involved her being straight-up robbed by a partner who took credit for much of her work during the World War II years, when she was exiled in Sweden.
Radioactive! tells the stories of these two very important women and their historical research. We learn Irène’s story from the beginning, as the daughter of celebrated scientist, Marie Curie. She worked by her mother’s side, operating an x-ray machine on World War I battlefields, eventually going on to further her mother’s work in radioactivity along with her chemist husband, Pierre Joliot. We learn about Lise Meitner, whose work put her in competition with Curie many times, but experienced more sexism and prejudice than Curie ever did. When Hitler rose to power in the 1930s, her Jewish heritage created problems at her research position, where former colleagues turned against her and demanded she resign; she was eventually forced her to flee Austria for Sweden or end up in a concentration camp. Although she continued to consult with Hahn on their nuclear fission research, he took credit for her work and took home the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1944.
I’ve been looking for biographies on women in science for my tweens and teens, and this certainly fits the bill. There are photographs throughout the book, and Ms. Conkling provides strong backgrounds on both Curie and Mietner, making them live again, making the reader care about them, and explaining physics, fission, and radioactive science in terms that we can all wrap our heads around. A valuable addition to libraries and classrooms, and a great book for anyone who wants to inspire the next generation of scientists – female OR male.
Winifred Conkling is an award-winning author of fiction and nonfiction for young readers, including Passenger on the Pearl: The True Story of Emily Edmonson’s Flight from Slavery and the middle-grade novel Sylvia and Aki, winner of the Jane Addams Children’s Literature Award and the Tomás Rivera Award. Her author website provides teacher guides for her books. There is no guide up for Radioactive yet, but I’m sure there will be one closer to the book’s publication date.