I’ve previously posted on Instagram about my journey as a scientist and how it wasn’t (and still isn’t) smooth sailing. Sometimes we look at others, seeing them do important things and think surely I could never achieve that. I used to think that being an exceptional scientist meant that you had an aptitude for science and possessed talents that the average person simply did not. I’ve since come to understand that obstacles are part of the scientific process, which is often not highlighted in published articles. I’ve had discussions with my scientist friends on how much we’d all benefit if we focused on telling our struggle stories as much as we focus on the final product! How much would younger scientists benefit knowing that there isn’t much else that sets us apart from Albert Einstein, Marie Curie or Elon Musk for that matter?
I was inspired to write this post after reading this paper, that speaks about humanizing scientists, sharing the struggles that came with their discoveries, therefore making them more relatable and increasing motivation to learn amongst learners.
So here are two scientists and an engineer, their achievements, and their struggles…
1. Marie Curie
- First woman to receive a Ph.D. from a French university.
- First woman to be employed as a professor at the University of Paris.
- Curie and her husband Pierre Curie discovered polonium and radium and the further development of X-rays.
- First woman to win the Nobel Prize, the first person to win the award twice for achievements in two distinct scientific fields (physics and chemistry).
I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy. ~Marie Curie
- Curie and her husband slaved away in a shack they called their lab.
- She struggled for more than three years to isolate a tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride. She never succeeded in isolating polonium, which has a half-life of only 138 days.
- Her mother died when she was only four years old.
- Her father struggled to support the family as a teacher.
- She joined an underground, unofficial university due to living in a sexist era
- She suffered xenophobia in the workplace (being Polish and competing in a male-dominated French university).
- Curie had an affair with her husband’s former student, physicist Paul Langevin. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences tried to dissuade Marie from going to Stockholm so that the King would not shake hands with an adulteress. She replied that she would attend because she thought that the prize was given for her scientific work, not for her personal life.
2. Nikola Tesla
- He was a polyglot, speaking eight languages: Serbo-Croatian, Czech, English, French, German, Hungarian, Italian, and Latin.
- He designed the modern alternating current electricity supply system.
- Developed a steam-powered reciprocating electricity generator.
- Invented the Tesla coil, an electrical resonant transformer coil, used in early radios.
- Developed a remote controlled boat, which he tried to sell to the U.S military, with little success.
“We all make mistakes, and it is better to make them before we begin.”~ Nikola Tesla
- In 1895 Tesla’s lab caught fire, setting back ongoing projects, destroying a collection of early notes and research material, models, and demonstration pieces.
- Tesla moved to Colorado, theorizing that the earth was an excellent conductor of electricity. Unfortunately, he wasn’t able to prove his hypothesis and transmit a current.
- In 1901, Tesla built a lab in New York; the Wardenclyffe Tower was meant to be the first broadcasting system in the world. His previous employer, Westinghouse, confiscated the large equipment from his lab for nonpayment of loans.The U.S. government later demolished the tower.
- Tesla was a workaholic with erratic sleeping patterns, professors at the university warned his father that these habits were killing him.
- Eventually, he dropped out of university, became a gambling addict, lost all his tuition money and suffered a nervous breakdown. It would not be his last.
- By 1912, Tesla was clearly showing signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder and was potentially a high-functioning autistic.
3. Elon Musk
- Musk is an innovator, engineer and entrepreneur behind various successful companies, including: SpaceX, Tesla Inc, OpenAi, and Neuralink.
- He was the co-founder of Zip2; and founder of X.com, which later became Paypal.
- He is working on a space transportation system to colonize Mars.
- He has an estimated net worth of $16.1 billion, making him the 80th-wealthiest person in the world.
“Failure is an option here. If you are not failing, you are not innovating enough.” ~Elon Musk
- In 1995, at age 24, Musk moved to California to begin a Ph.D. at Stanford University but left the program after two days to pursue his entrepreneurial aspirations.
- Musk was bullied throughout his childhood, once landing in hospital after being severely beaten.
- He struggled with adolescent depression.
- He married Justine Wilson in 2000. In 2002, their first son died at 10 weeks old from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). They had five additional sons together, twins and triplets before getting a divorce.
- Musk married actress Talulah Riley, their relationship ultimately ended in divorce in 2016.
In humanizing these scientists, we are able to see that just like us, they had obstacles to overcome. If it weren’t for their tenacity, they would not have achieved their goals. Has this post helped revise your perceptions and beliefs about scientists? Let me know what you think 🙂
Featured image by Sidney Perry on Unsplash