Herstory: Marie Curie, Female Scientist Extraordinaire

Many people consider Marie Curie the best known and most inspirational woman of science. Her amazing contributions to the field were backed by a life that was a perfect example of dedication to personal passions motivated by the desire to help humankind.

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Image courtesy of http://www.clccharter.org/

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867, Maria Salomea Sklodowska was the youngest of five children. The Sklodowska family, who once lived a comfortable life, lost most of their property and finances due to the uprisings that overwhelmed Poland a few years before she was born. Maria’s family not only struggled to make ends meet but also had to deal with tragedies early on in their family life. In 1878, her mother died from tuberculosis when Maria was just ten years old. This came three years after the family dealt with their first tragedy, which was the death of Zofia (Maria’s oldest sibling) due to typhus.

These two deaths in their family prompted Maria to turn agnostic, despite growing up with a devoutly Catholic mother.

Maria was only sixteen years old when she received her first significant academic accolade: a gold medal upon her graduation in 1883. She took the year off soon after to stay with relatives in the countryside so that she could heal from a collapse, which many pinpoint was due to depression. In those times, women were not permitted to study in regular institutions of higher learning. So together with her sister Bronislawa, she instead opted to go with the underground Flying University, which was the only Polish institution that accepted female students.

As money was still tight, Maria took a job first as a tutor and then as a governess for a family of a distant relative, the Zorawskis. There, she fell in love with Kazimierz Zorawski, the son who would later become a renowned mathematician. As she was poor, the parents of Kazimierz rejected the relationship.


Young Marie Curie, Image courtesy of http://www.fromquarkstoquasars.com/

In the early 1890s, Maria focused her efforts on earning enough funds to pay for further education in Paris, where her sister had moved. She also busied herself by learning from a tutor and self-studying. It was also during this time that she embarked on her life-long training in science, beginning in a chemical laboratory in Warsaw.

In the latter part of 1891, Maria left for France and lived with her sister before securing quarters of her own near the University of Paris, which was where she pursued studies in mathematics, chemistry and physics. Maria, who then became known as Marie (as is the French counterpart of her name) struggled for resources and had occasional fainting spells from lack of sustenance. Still, she kept to her studies during the day and earned a little during the evenings through tutoring work. Finally in 1893, she obtained a physics degree and began working for Professor Gabriel Lippmann in his industrial laboratory. At this time, she pursued another degree at the same University a mere year after.

Marie’s scientific career benefited from opportunities to engage in experimentation and research through commissioned work from both the private and public spheres. It was also during these early years that she met and fell in love with Pierre Curie, a fellow physicist and instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry in France.

Pierre proposed marriage and Marie only agreed after a visit to Poland. She went back to Poland with the intent to pursue her work in the academe in her native country but it yielded no success simply because she was female. Pierre and Marie were married in July 26, 1895, and apart from their passion for science, they spent ample time on shared pursuits such as trips abroad and long bicycle rides together. The Curies were blessed with two daughters: Irene and Eve. The couple frequently collaborated on scientific pursuits together in their makeshift laboratory and among their other accomplishments are credited for the discovery of element radioactivity, and the new elements “polonium” (named after her native Poland) and “radium” (Latin for “ray”)’. The husband and wife team published 32 scientific papers from 1898 to 1902, which included one that identified that tumor cells are quickly destroyed with radium exposure.

Pierre tragically died in April 19, 1906 due to a road accident, which left Marie devastated. But despite yet another loss, she still forged ahead with her academic and scientific pursuits. In the same year, she accepted on behalf of her husband a professorial chair at the University of Paris, making her the first female professor of the esteemed university.


With husband, Pierre Curie and daughters, Irene and Eve, Image courtesy of http://www.bonjourparis.com/

Marie Curie became the first female faculty member at Ecole Normale Superieure in 1900. She obtained her doctorate degree in 1903 from the University of Paris.

She received two Nobel Prizes – in 1903 for physics and in 1911 for chemistry. She is the first female recipient of the Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to have prizes in two fields, and the only person to ever win in multiple sciences.

She also received the following awards: the Davy Medial (1903), Matteucci Medal (1904), Actonian Prize (1907) and the Elliot Cresson Medal (1909).

Being a female in Marie Curie’s lifetime and chosen field often meant inequality. She was initially supposed to be kept out of the Nobel Prize honor until her husband found out and issued a complaint. She was not permitted to speak at a radioactivity lecture at the Royal Institution in London because she was a woman. She was forced to be very thorough in outlining her significant contributions to papers she pushed, as not doing so could result in repercussions in the acknowledgement of her work and originality. Marie was bypassed for an election to the French Academy of Sciences in 1911 in favor of Edouard Branly, the inventor who assisted in the creation of the wireless telegraph.


Marie Curie, the scientist, Image courtesy of http://takebackhalloween.org/

Her personal life was also challenging due to her success as a female scientist. The media did not spare her; using her lack of religion and foreign status as excuses to criticize her and creating false stories that she was Jewish. A relationship she had developed with physicist Paul Langevin in 1910 to 1911 was branded a scandal due to Langevin being a man whose wedding was on the rocks, and quite possibly because she was five years his senior. A mob had formed in front of her home, accusing her of being a Jewish home-wrecking foreigner. Marie, together with her daughters had no choice but to seek refuge in a friend’s home.

Despite the attention from the scientific community and the world, Marie usually preferred to stay out of the limelight unless she had to generate funds to further her research. She (and also Pierre) did not patent their important discoveries so that research on these by other scientists could continue freely. She was known to donate money she had received from her work in science to friends, family members, and the needy.

During World War 1, she designed and created mobile x-ray machines that helped front line medical officers treat the wounded, using her own supply of radium; an estimated one million soldiers benefitted from her invention. She trained more than 200 females to become medical aides.

Marie even went as far as trying to donate her Nobel gold to the war effort, which was declined by the government. Unfazed, she instead purchased war bonds and used her Nobel Prize money to do so. Despite these humanitarian efforts, Marie Curie never received any recognition from the French government.

Marie Curie spent her post-war years touring various countries to deliver lectures and raise funds for various research efforts on radium. She had travelled to the United States, Brazil, Spain, Belgium and Czechoslovakia. She became a member and fellow of many important research institutes and international commissions.

On July 4, 1934, Marie Curie died from aplastic anemia in Sancellemoz Sanatorium. Her cause of death was believed to be due to her long-spanning exposure to radiation. Her remains and that of her husband Pierre were relocated to the Pantheon in Paris as a way of honoring their achievements in the field of science.

Marie Curie’s tireless and groundbreaking scientific work, conducted from within a prejudiced and patriarchic culture has made her a woman to look up to. Her achievements have shaped society, saved millions of lives, and became the entry points for even more groundbreaking work in the fields of science and medicine.


Useful links about Marie Curie:


Woolf Works Wednesday: Raffle Prizes

Tonight is our last social night of the year! Woolf Works Wednesdays are fun networking evenings with wine, food, great art and inspiring speakers.

Get your tickets here.

We also have a raffle drawn at the end of the night, here’s our line up of great prizes:


One 60 minute massage from miracle-worker Neridah of Pink Ginger.Screenshot (43) Screenshot (52)PinkGinger™ is a women-only, boutique Remedial and Sports Massage service based on the East Coast of Singapore. PinkGinger™ offers a professional, personal sports and remedial massage service for women.

$50 Voucher from Annielka, a online jewelry store selling gorgeous designer pieces from around the world – plus free local shipping! Screenshot (53) Screenshot (54)Annielka, pronounced An-yel-ka, is the personal vision of style & jewellery-obsessed, Sydney-born Founder and Creative Director, Angela Wozniak. “Annielka is a woman who is intelligent, ambitious, sophisticated and worldly. She’s intuitive and enjoys the finer things in life. She travels through life as a modernist, always meticulously groomed, letting the allure of uniquely sculptured metals and jewels define her style.”


10 sets of healthy, tasty lunches delivered, valid at $90 from Be_!5a5c48d3186a35a49d4e876747f36444
At Be _!, we believe that food is a bridge, not a barrier. We use halal-sourced ingredients so that all could enjoy the same food. We believe in healing through motion, healing in motion – challenging our boundaries, our fears though cooking soul food, yoga and fitness. We believe in empowering our people with employment and self-esteem, enabling our clients healthier, more fulfilled lives and enhancing the future of women in developing countries.


A bottle of New Zealand wine from the fabulous people at Underground Wine UGW-logoUnderground Wines sell quality New Zealand wines at very affordable prices
delivered direct to your door. Try their exclusive award winning wines from
only $23.95 today or join their mailing list to keep updated with their
specials and tasting events.

A seat at a Japanese Woodblock Printing workshop, held by Jennifer Lim Design
valued at $320
Jennifer Lim, an Australian-Peranakan artist and printmaker based in Singapore since 2012, gives a basic introduction to proofing your carved woodblock. Proofing is essential to working out if your carving has been deep and clean enough. Use photocopy paper or something inexpensive to proof before trying more professional papers.

One Month ‘Part-Timer’ Membership at Woolf Works, valid at $300

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Become part of the Woolf Works community and enjoy our beautiful space, fast wifi and great coffee!


To be part of our great community event – grab your tickets quick.

For future event info, sign up to our mailing list here.


Tips for Working in a Coworking Space

Coworking spaces are popular because they address the needs of emerging startups, freelancers and unconventional business outfits. They offer a more professional environment than the kitchen nook, garage or bedroom. Here are some tips that will help you become more productive and work harmoniously alongside other users of a shared office.

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Know what’s in store for you. Make it a point to know what services and features are available to you in your shared office space. This will help you determine the materials you need to bring, what kind of meetings you can hold there and allow you to fully utilize the space.

Use headphones. Tune out the murmur of small group meetings and conversations around you by donning a pair of headphones and listening to your favorite album or business podcast.

Get your list ready. In order to maximize time in a coworking space, your first task should be a to-do list. Refer back to it constantly to keep yourself on target. The first five should be a good mix of ‘easy wins’ and bulky, important tasks to keep your momentum going.

Always ask if you forgot something. If you have forgotten something important like an HDMI cable or phone charger, don’t hesitate to ask the staff. You might be surprised how many resources your space has tucked away!

Be a responsible citizen. As a sign of respect, always wash your dishes, cutlery and glasses. If you use it, you are responsible for cleaning it and putting it away. Report low toilet paper, milk or coffee beans to staff and don’t leave your stinky leftovers in the fridge! If you use shared equipment like printers, computers or cables, always put them back as you found them. This also applies to customization settings for photocopiers and fax machines too.

Be strategic (and respectful) with your choice of space. If you are going to have a small meeting at a coworking space, choose a spot in a corner or away from others so there will be less chance of being a distraction. There is nothing wrong with a quiet conversation – just be mindful of your volume levels.

Be open to a work trade. Coworking spaces are awesome for networking and collaborating. If you’re a graphic designer and you meet a financial consultant over the coffee machine – how about discussing a skills barter? It’s a way to get a win-win for both of you. Opportunities like this will open up when you are friendly and engaging with your fellow coworkers, but know when it’s time to be quiet and get down to work.

Coworking spaces are awesome places to work productively and really grow your business. If you treat the space and your fellow workers with respect, and go into the space with a commitment to working hard, the opportunities and benefits can be amazing!


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Of course we think our coworking space, Woolf Works, is the best! We are a women-only space located in an old shophouse on Joo Chiat Rd. Our community includes writers, entrepreneurs, photographers and consultants. Come for a visit and see for yourself! Check out the website and get in touch at info@woolfworks.sg


‘Tis the season

We are building up to that time of the year where for many, the pleasure of family time and no alarm clocks runs smack into the stresses of jet lag and travel, family dynamics, financial strain and mile-long to-do lists.

This is the time of year when all big plans are shelved for frantic evening Christmas shopping runs, juggling work commitments and school functions and preparing guest rooms or packing suitcases.

It’s a time of short tempers and stress.

I was reminded of this beautiful poem by Rumi recently and thought I might pin it up on my bathroom mirror, to help with the tough times.

Rumi - Guest house

We are having a great (and free!) talk at Woolf Works on December 1st at 10am. Clinical Psychologist Shrimati Swaminathan will discuss tension and stress around the holidays and family dynamics – especially dealing with your in laws!

Sign up here

We all wish for a happy and loving family holiday season – unfortunately we are also all human. Sometimes the little tips and tricks can help us in small ways to deal with the big things. Hope to see you there, meanwhile I’m off to print out a poem.




Herstory: Chen Lihua – Empowerment through Entrepreneurship

The entrepreneurship world of the twentieth century was very much dominated by men, and this was especially so in China. One woman who went against the grain is Chen Lihua – a women who achieved remarkable success in her field and was also able to give back considerably to her community.


Image by David Shankbone (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Born in Beijing to a poor family, Chen Lihua is now the world’s richest self-made woman.

Like many other poor Han nationals, she reached high school before dropping out due to lack of money. Amongst mounting pressure to work and contribute to the family budget, her strong business sense led her to set up her own furniture maintenance business back in 1976.

Chen Lihua came from a poor family, but this did not stop her from testing the limits of her capabilities. In 1982 the determined young woman journeyed to Hong Kong to see what trade and investment opportunities awaited her. Nearly a decade later, her return to Beijing signaled the start of her climb to real and lasting success with a new venture: the Fu Wah International Group which initially dealt with residential housing projects. Under her careful management, Fu Wah expanded rapidly and became an industrial investment powerhouse that handles both construction and operational duties of shopping malls, office buildings, upscale hotels, apartments, clubhouses and many more. Fu Wah now has interests in areas apart from real estate and commerce such as tourism and catering, and has opened up branch offices in Australia and other countries. Her Chang An club enjoys a prime spot in one of the Beijing’s most prestigious locales. Chen Lihua’s current net worth of over 1 billion dollars mainly comes from the success of Fu Wah.

She married Chi Zhongrui, an actor who was ten years younger to her, but the union did not prove to be long lasting and the couple separated. Chen Lihua has three children – two daughters and one son who are now, as adults, based in and work in Hong Kong. Her children are very fond of and close to her and have proved to be her psychological and financial mainstays. Despite her impressive net worth, her children nonetheless provide her with financial support that she is free to use for her philanthropic pursuits.

Interviews will have Chen Lihua saying how important her role as a mother is – to her own children, to her business and to her country. She sees motherhood as an obligation well beyond her own children – which stems from a huge amount of love, respect and sense of duty she got from her own mother. “My mother’s blood runs through my own veins and therefore I have a filial obligation to comport myself with grace and determination throughout life to honor her,” she has said. “My duties as a loving mother also apply to my country, society and employees as well, as it all boils down to one word – loyalty.” This sense of obligation to both the private and public spheres can perhaps be the factor to which we attribute her success in life as a beloved mother, a caring employer and a productive Chinese nation-builder.

Chen Lihua Fu Wah

Chen Lihua’s Fu Wah real estate company in Hong Kong, image courtesy of http://kevinyaohari2.blogspot.com/

Chen Lihua is not only an amazing entrepreneur, she is a very generous philanthropist and a key player in several of Beijing’s development projects. In 1999 she established the China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing – China’s first ever privately owned museum. The China Red Sandalwood Museum is home to more than 300 pieces of antique furniture and artwork that dates as far back as the Ming and Qing dynasties, lovingly collected over a span of two decades by Chen Lihua and her group.

Her determination to support the dying art of Chinese sandalwood carving and uplift China in the eyes of other countries is a personal one. As a child, she had spent many a time marveling at the ancient city gates of old Beijing and ruminated on how this image could also be passed on to China’s descendants and future generations. This propelled her to create the museum that is not only a testament to China’s rich art culture but also a way for the current and future generations to stay in touch with their roots.

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Chen Lihua with a model of the Hall of Prayer for Good Harvests at China Red Sandalwood Museum in Beijing, image courtesy of http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/

Chen Lihua has reaped many accolades in recognition of her astoundingly successful work and contribution in both the global business and art spheres. Her successes in the field of business and the arts earned her an honorary doctorate in the humanities from Savannah College of Art and Design. She is among the movers and shakers in the 400 Richest Chinese list according to Forbes.com. In 2012, she was named as the second-richest woman in China as per their Hurun Rich List. Not only that, but Time.com also dedicated a spot to her in their list of 100 most influential people in the world.

Those who have had the opportunity to meet the unassuming Madame Chen say that despite her success, she remains to be a very humble person with a genuine desire to do good to her beloved China – and for humanity in general. “I should be responsible for everybody around me. It is only a natural thing to give money to those most in need,” she has been quoted to say. Apart from the China Red Sandalwood Museum, she has been a steady contributor to a variety of poverty and disaster relief programs. Coming from a poor family, she understands the plight of the needy and has pledged millions in supporting the education of those who would not have had the opportunity otherwise.

Chen Lihua

Image courtesy of http://www.womenofchina.cn/

Her humble upbringing has led her to live a life away from the spotlight as per her preference, but she is still very good in being able to direct the media to her causes and get powerful officials and politicians such as Jia Qinglin, Li Ruihuan and many others to give their pledge of support to her.

Now in her seventies, Chen Lihua has yet to show signs of stepping down from her role as a patron of the arts and a business force. “If time allows me, I will continue to make the 72 memorial archways of the old Beijing and I would then love to be the doorman for the old city of Beijing,” says the inimitable Madame Chen. She is living proof that when a woman puts her mind to it, she can succeed in both business and in achieving her personal aspirations on a national and even global platform. With determination and the intent to do good, she has made a name for herself as a person who is able to rise to the top of the business ladder while still keeping true to her socio-civic duty of helping her fellow citizens. Truly, Madame Chen is both an inspired and inspiring woman worth looking up to.


Helpful links about Chen Lihua: