Featured on NYTimes, a thoughtful article on a woman, Marguerite Perey, a technician for Marie Curie who discovered Franconium, and her dedication to science. Importantly, the article highlights that not all discoveries are glorious, but that scientsits should be dedicated for their tenacity and perseverance for study and discovery. Some key snippets from the article:
There is a common narrative in science of the tragic genius who suffers for a great reward, and the tale of Curie, who died from exposure to radiation as a result of her pioneering work, is one of the most famous. There is a sense of grandeur in the idea that paying heavily is a means of advancing knowledge. But in truth, you can’t control what it is that you find — whether you’ve sacrificed your health for it, or simply years of your time.
In general, scientists whose risks pay off in the ways they expect are the ones who become the most famous, who get their stories written in romantic and memorable terms. This is particularly true if those expectations are grandiose and the risks they take are tragic. But such people represent a vanishingly small part of those who dedicate their lives to science. “We have this selection bias on when it does work out in an extraordinary way,” Lynette Shaw, a sociologist who studies how we assign value to ideas, objects and people, told me. Perey’s story “gets to this deep question about what’s the value in doing things? Is it the end result? Or is it just because it has inherent worth to pursue them?”
We should celebrate scientists not solely for their accomplishments but also for their courage and the tenacity required to discover anything at all. There are brave people out there working right now. They are brave not because they are killing themselves slowly or leaping from airplanes or catching rare tropical diseases, although scientists have done all those things. They are brave because of the intense emotional risks of trying to do something no one has done before by following your own lead. Radiation is a potent allegory for human life. Everything is always, inevitably falling apart; we are all in arrested decay. Our greatest achievements may become at best footnotes; few people remember us; we can’t know what will eventually come of our work.