Marguerite-Catherine Perey, discoverer of francium and first female elected academician at the Académie des Sciences

Marguerite Perey

He was born in Villemomble (France) on October 19, 1909. He had always wanted to be a doctor, but after the early death of his father, the family did not have the resources to do so. With much effort, and the opposition of his mother, he had managed to obtain, in 1929, the title of chemical laboratory technician at the Escuela de Enseñanza Técnica Femenina.

That same year, he began working at the Paris Radio Institute, where he had obtained a 3-month internship contract as a laboratory technician. When he arrived on the first day he met a very nice lady dressed in work clothes whom he took to be the secretary of the laboratory. He soon realized that this simple lady was Marie Curie, professor at the Sorbonne, with two Nobel prizes and founder of the Radium Institute.

Marguerite Perey en el laboratorio

Marguerite's great fortune was that she had found a person who placed more importance on talent than formality and who quickly detected the intellectual capacity and the ability to work in Marguerite's laboratory, even if she did not have a university degree. She made her her personal lab assistant and busied herself with training her. They would be together for five years, until Marie's death.

In 1934 she was appointed radiochemist at the Institute, going on to work under the new director of the Institute, André Debierne, and Irène Joliot-Curie who were interested in the study of actinium.

In 1934 she was appointed radiochemist at the Institute, going on to work under the new director of the Institute, André Debierne, and Irène Joliot-Curie who were interested in the study of actinium.

He had just discovered the last natural element left to complete Mendeleev's 92-element periodic table. In the 1940s, Coryell and Segrè artificially obtained promethium (61) and astatine (85).

At just over thirty years old, she had a result comparable to that of her mentor, Marie Curie.

The members of the institute thought that he would present it as his doctoral thesis, as Marie had done with radium. The problem wasn't just that Marguerite didn't have a college degree, it's that she didn't even have a high school diploma. At her Institute they decided to remove her from all laboratory tasks and got her a scholarship so that she could study at the Sorbonne. She attended pre-med in order to gain access to a bachelor's degree and then modules in chemistry, biology and physiology that the university deemed equivalent to a bachelor's degree (Marguerite's case was exceptional in every way).

Finally, on March 21, 1946, at the age of 36, Marguerite presented her thesis on "L'élément 87: Actinium K". The last sentence of it collected the privilege of the discoverer: "The name Francium, Fa, is proposed for place 87" (today the symbol of francium is Fr).

As Irène Joliot-Curie said, when Marguerite finished her thesis defense, “Today my mother would have been happy”.

Marguerite Perey

In 1946, she was appointed research professor at the CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research).

From 1958 until her death, she worked as an administrator at the Strasbourg Nuclear Research Institute, alternating this occupation with her work as a professor of Nuclear Chemistry at the University of that city.

Most of his career was devoted to research into the physical, chemical, and biological properties of different radioactive substances, both natural and man-made.

Her work and contribution to science were rewarded by obtaining the Paris Scientific Grand Prix (1960), and by being laureate by the French Academy of Sciences on two occasions (1950 and 1960), awards to which was added the award, in 1964, of the prestigious Lavossier silver medal, awarded by the Chemical Society of France.

She did not win a Nobel Prize, but in 1962 she became the first woman elected to the Paris Academy of Sciences, something not even Marie Curie.

He died in Louveciennes (France), on May 13, 1975, at the age of 65, a victim of cancer due to handling radioactive substances.

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