The IAEA on Monday launched a fellowship programme to provide an incentive for young women to consider a career in nuclear science and technology. Named after twice Nobel Prize winner, the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Fellowship Programme aims to increase the number of women studying in nuclear science and technology and non-proliferation studies through scholarships and work experience opportunities.
The initiative, by IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi, was presented at an Agency event in Vienna to mark International Women’s Day.
“Women are still far from being adequately represented in the nuclear field, and this is unacceptable,” Grossi said. “Nuclear science and technology help countries to combat many of today’s challenges so the demand for qualified professionals is high and will continue to grow.”
Dominika Anna Krois, Poland’s Resident Representative to the United Nations in Vienna and Xavier Sticker, France’s Resident Representative to the United Nations in Vienna, spoke as representatives of Skłodowska-Curie’s two home countries.
“The fellowship will commemorate an extraordinary woman and eminent scientist who received 2 Nobel Prizes,” Krois said, recounting the life of Skłodowska-Curie until she left Poland at the age of 24 to study in Paris. “Poland will support this fellowship in many ways, as proposed by the IAEA,” she added.
“Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the first women to get a PhD at the University of La Sorbonne and the first woman to teach there,” said Sticker. “What I retain from her life is not only what she achieved, but also what she gave back.” France will provide funding to the initiative, he added. “The IAEA will receive French contributions from the Atomic Energy Commission, and we will make sure that the support goes beyond in the private sector.”
Ambassadors Sticker and Krois were joined by a large number of IAEA Member States representatives, that thanked the Director General for the concrete and very timely initiative to support young women’s involvement in nuclear sciences and technologies. The following countries expressed their support: Belgium, Canada, China, France, Japan, Kuwait, Morocco, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Paraguay, Poland, the United Kingdom, the United States and Uruguay. The G77 group of countries, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the European Union, the Texas A&M system, Australia's Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation and the Ban Ki-moon Centre for Global Citizens have also expressed their support to the fellowship programme.
During the event, Marie Skłodowska-Curie’s granddaughter, nuclear physicist Hélène Langevin-Joliot, sent a video message in support of the initiative. “Marie Skłodowska-Curie was deeply convinced of the equal capacities of women and men in science. […] She would have certainly hoped for much more rapid progress of the women’s place in science,” she said.
Argentine nuclear physicist and Latin American winner of the L’Oreal-UNESCO Award for Women in Science Karen Hallberg reminded the audience that, according to UNESCO, only 30 per cent of the world's scientific researchers are women. She talked about gender-based prejudice and scientific evidence debunking the myths around brain and gender. “The brain is not more gendered than the heart, kidneys or liver.”
The IAEA will provide scholarships for up to two years for women pursuing a graduate degree in nuclear science and technology or non-proliferation studies. Fellows will also have the opportunity to pursue internships at the IAEA.
The name of the Programme honours one of the most famous female scientists. Marie Skłodowska-Curie’s pioneering work on radioactivity in the late 1800s enabled the world to harness the power of the atom.
She also had a great sense of humour, Ambassador Sticker said. “After she received her first Nobel Prize together with her husband Pierre Curie, a journalist asked Marie Skłodowska-Curie what it felt like to be married to a genius. ‘I have no clue. Ask my husband!', she said."
You can watch the recording of the event here.