Tuesday, March 29, 2016



YA nonfiction
"While great strides were made in understanding the atom at that
time, the potential significance of atomic power was not always well
understood. In 1933, Einstein told a reporter that the attempts at
'loosening the energy of the atom were fruitless.' The same year,
physicist Ernest Rutherford also said, 'Anyone who expects a source of
power from the transformation of atoms is talking moonshine.' No one
had a clear appreciation of the many ways in which the world was about
to change."
If you had asked me to pick an adjective to describe the history
of physics, exciting was not one that would have come to mind. My
mind's eye would have conjured up images of stodgy white jacketed
white middle aged men drudging it up in labs and droning on giving
dreadfully boring speeches. But that was before I read Radioactive!
How Irene Curie & Lise Meitner Revolutionized Science and Changed the
World, source of the above quote. It made the subject really come
I think the book's great strength comes from its successful
integration of strands that are often kept separate or subordinated to
one another: the discoveries themselves and the background knowledge
(explained well enough for people like me who never took physics)
necessary to understand their significance, the people who did the
discoveries, and the world in which they took place.
Although we've heard of Curie's famous mother, Marie, most of us
are unaware of Irene Curie and Lise Meitner. This is a huge mistake.
If they had not been born the world would be a very different place.
Curie developed a way of changing atomic structures to create new
elements. (Ironically not too long before that physics had considered
a dead subject with all important information known and just better
measurements needed). Meitner had the insight that led to the nuclear
fission that underlay both the bomb that ended World War II and
nuclear power.
Curie and Meitner had more to contend with than the challenges
of their field. Both were women in a time when society in general
believed that women's place was in the kitchen, not the lab. Curie's
nomination to the French Academy of Sciences, for example, triggered a
vote to disqualify all women from becoming members. Meitner, a woman
with four Jewish grandparents, was working in Hitler's Germany and
almost stayed there too late. The efforts of colleagues to get her
out make for quite suspenseful reading.
Radioactive! makes for insightful and exciting reading. I
believe this book belongs in all middle and high school libraries. It
has the potential to inspire girls to embark on STEM careers. Who
knows? Maybe a young woman reading it will become a researcher who
makes an earth shattering discovery.
On a personal note, I am very proud of my daughter, Amber, who is
working on her PhD in physics.
A great big shout out goes out to Amber and all her STEM sisters!
Jules Hathaway

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