Why a Google Doodle is celebrating the Romanian physicist Ștefania Mărăcineanu today
Google is celebrating the 140th birthday of the pioneering Romanian physicist Ștefania Mărăcineanu with a special commemorative Doodle today.
The simple design pays tribute to the scientist’s work on the chemical element polonium, discovered by Marie Curie.
It comes the day after the search engine honoured another trailblazing woman, the British composer, teacher and opera singer Amanda Aldridge, with another Doodle.
Ștefania Mărăcineanu was born in Bucharest on 18 June 1882, and enrolled at her home city’s university in 1907.
She graduated three years later with a degree in physical and chemical science, and became a teacher.
After working around Romania in 1915 Mărăcineanu took a post at the Central School for Girls in Bucharest, which she had attended as a child.
Alongside her teaching work, Mărăcineanu pursued studies in radioactivity, taking a course at the Sorbonne under Marie Curie in 1919.
She went on to conduct further research with the famous physicist at the Radium Institute, where she earned her Ph.D in 1924.
Mărăcineanu’s research was focused on the half-life of polonium, which had been discovered by Curie in 1898.
She noticed that the element’s half-life appeared to depend on the type of metal it was placed on, which led her to believe radioactive isotopes could be formed from atoms after exposure to polonium’s alpha rays.
This discovery is considered to be the first example of artificial radioactivity, which eventually earned Irene Joliot-Currie (Marie’s daughter) and her husband Frederic the Nobel Prize in 1935.
Despite Mărăcineanu’s doctoral dissertation indicating that she had made the discovery more than a decade earlier, her work was not acknowledged by Joliot-Curie.
It was recognised officially by the Academy of Sciences of Romania in 1936, but her role was ignored by the wider international scientific community.
What else did Ștefania Mărăcineanu do?
After working at the the Astronomical Observatory in Meudon, on the outskirts of Paris, for four years, Mărăcineanu went on to return to Romania n 1929 and found the country’s first radioactivity laboratory.
She conducted research into artificial rain and around the link between earthquakes and rainfall. Mărăcineanu was the first scientist to recognise that there is a significant rise in radioactivity in the epicentre ahead of a quake.
The physicist became Director of Research of the Romanian Academy of Sciences in 1937, and Associate Professor in 1941. She retired in 1942 and died in Bucharest on 15 August 1944 at the age of 62.