Radiance, scientists, communication and improvisation

Marie Curie’s letters are radioactive. I discovered that fact when reading David Bruggeman’s Nov. 5, 2011,posting (on his Pasco Phronesis blog),

As part of his appearance on Thursday night’s edition of The Late Late Show to promote Tower Heist (video not yet available at the usual places), Alan Alda noted that his play, Radiance: The Passion of Marie Curie, is premiering in Los Angeles.  In previews as of November 1st, the play’s official opening is next Wednesday at the Geffen Playhouse.  Alda has written before, but this is his first effort for the stage.  …

… This play has percolated with him for years, first as a reading of her letters.  Their persistent radioactivity forced him to switch to Einstein and defer the work with Marie Curie until now.

The play was given a public reading at the World Science Festival in New York, June 2011. From the May 9, 2011 article by Patricia Cohen for the New York Times,

Opening night of the World Science Festival in New York is going to feature a more glittering lineup of stars than most Broadway shows. Meryl Streep, Amy Adams, Allison Janney, Liev Schreiber, David Morse and Bill Camp are among the actors coming together on June 1 at Alice Tully Hall to participate in a reading of a new play written by Alan Alda about the scientist Marie Curie.

Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in 1902 – for the theory of radioactivity that she developed with her husband, Pierre –  and the first person to receive the award twice. She was awarded her second Nobel in chemistry in 1911 for her discovery of two elements, radium and polonium. There have been several renditions of Curie’s life on stage, television and film, including the 1943 drama starring Greer Garson. Without giving too much of the plot away, Mr. Alda said his play focuses on the period between her first Nobel Prize and her second nine years later. The Nobel committee did not originally want to include Curie in the award and only backed down after pressure from her husband. “But they wouldn’t let her get up and accept the award,” Mr. Alda said. “She had to sit in the audience.” In the intervening years, Pierre Curie died and Marie had to run a gauntlet of setbacks and obstacles, but by 1911, Mr. Alda said, “her work is finally recognized, and she takes full credit for it, even though by now she’s weakened by radiation poisoning.”

“I think she had a kind of cognitive dissonance about it,” Mr. Alda said of the damaging fallout from her experiments. “She didn’t want to believe it was sickening her,” he added. “It’s part of the heroism of science itself. We as a species are just so interested in understanding things that might be dangerous to mess with, but nothing stops us.”

Radiance is currently playing at the Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles and features Anna Gunn (Breaking Bad, a U. S. television series) as Marie Curie and John de Lancie (probably best known at Q in the U. S. television series, Star Trek: The Next Generation) as Pierre Curie. Ticket buying information and details about the L. A. production can be found here.

Alan Alda has a longstanding interest in science and science communication as can be seen in a National Science Foundation video, which I found on Ed Darrell’s blog, Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub (MFB). First here’s a little About MFB,

Of all the bathtubs in all the bathrooms in the world, and I had to pick Millard Fillmore’s!

Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub started as my way of learning about making blogs work, for my hope to integrate blog usage into the classroom.

This blog focuses on history education, with meanders into all of the social studies: Economics, history, geography, law, political science, and government (have I left something unmentioned? It’s in there). Debunking false, bad, bogus and voodoo history occupied me from at least junior high school; the story of Millard Fillmore’s bathtub, the hoax perpetrated by H. L. Mencken and the inability of historians to straighten out the issue in 90 years, seemed a good jumping off point.

My hope is to help students, their learning partners (especially parents), teachers and administrators make history sing for the students — and other social studies, too.

I don’t usually embed videos that run for over five minutes and this one runs for over 25 minutes but I thought it exceptionally interesting as Alda discusses, scientists, the sciences, and communicating with other human beings at a US National Science Foundation event. Here’s the video I found on MFB (March 28, 2011 post),

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