“The Instability of Matter,” inspired by cyanotype images in Lauren Redniss’s new book Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout.
I’ve been itching to get back inside the breath-taking, Beaux-Arts New York Public Library’s Main Branch ever since I attended Karen Armstrong’s lecture on compassion there in January. As embarrassing as this is to admit: though I’ve lived in the suburbs of Manhattan for much of my life, I’d never set foot past Patience and Fortitude (the iconic marble lions that flank the building’s entrance at 42nd and 5th) prior to this year…
I know: Stupid, stupid, stupid. For a girl with dueling hardcover-book and marble-staircase kinks, you’ve gotta ask: What was I waiting for??? An engraved invitation from Nathan Fillion?
However, with mid-winter recess and a houseful of cabin-feverish children looming ever nigh, I ducked into Manhattan last week to rectify this situation and wound up happening upon a geektasmic exhibit: Lauren Redniss’s Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout–a narrative that, as the library’s exhibit literature states, “reflects the beauty, and the dangers, inherent in scientific progress and in love.”
As I started to make my way down the high-ceilinged hallway full of text-laden cyanotype collages, I dredged up what little I already I knew about the Curies: They were married. Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize–and actually received two in her lifetime, one for chemistry and a second for physics. They coined the term radioactive and were credited with discovering two elements (Radium and Polonium).
What I hadn’t known, however, was:
- that when their daughters were just 8 and 2, Pierre (possibly due to physical complications resulting from radiation poisoning) was run over and killed by a horse-drawn carriage.
- that, years later, Marie entered into a relationship with another physicist, Paul Langevin, who was married but at that time estranged from his wife.
- that Marie and Paul’s relationship became public knowledge when Langevin’s wife leaked copies of their love letters to the newspapers of Paris.
- that this resulted in a request from the Nobel Foundation: would scandalous Marie kindly refrain from attending the 1911 Nobel prize ceremonies (she attended in spite of the request).
Other results of the scandal included a duel…as well as a letter of personal support from Albert Einstein–SO MUCH SEXY SEXINESS!!!
The New York Public Library exhibit–which will be open until April 17 and is free to the public–is a real-world complement to Redniss’s graphic novel(ish) book of the same name. However, for those who do not live near Manhattan, the library has also created an online version of the exhibit with the same images and text, as well as tutorials on how to create your own cyanotypes or design your own typeface. Take THAT, cabin fever!
Video: How to Create a Cyanotype, by Lauren Redniss