Valentine’s Day quiz about famous chemist couples
1) Marie Sklowdoska Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize (for physics in 1903) and the first person — man or woman — to win the award twice (the second was for chemistry in 1911). When did she and Pierre Curie marry?
- in 1891
- in 1895
- in 1905
1895: Marie left Poland for Paris, France, in 1891. She was introduced to Pierre in the Spring of 1894, and in July 1895 they got married. Their first child, Irène, was born in September 1897 and at the end of the year Marie set on to work on the mysterious rays discovered by Henri Becquerel, leading to her Ph.D. on radioactivity in 1903.
2) Who was the chronologically first among the scientific couples listed below?
- Robert Boyle and Katherine Jones
- Marie and Pierre Curie
- Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier
The answer is Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier; they married in 1771. Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier married in 1771. With Marie-Anne’s dowry, they built a well-equipped laboratory for their studies. Antoine Lavoisier is considered the “father” of modern chemistry, as he established the role of oxygen in combustion and the respiration of plants and animals, explicitly expressed and used the law of conservation of mass, and demonstrated the chemical composition of water. Much of his work would not have been accomplished without his wife Marie-Anne Paulze.
Marie-Anne learned foreign languages to translate scientific texts and maintain international correspondence (English and Italian mostly). She became skilled at drawing and etching and was the author of the illustrations for her husband’s well-known “Traité élémentaire de chimie”. She kept a salon, recorded experiments, and supervised the edition of her late husband’s complete work, all the while gathering his archives and his instrumental collection. (more on Antoine Lavoisier)
Robert Boyle never married. He lived in the house of his sister Katherine Jones. She was a learned woman in her own right and thought to have been a great influence on Boyle’s work in chemistry.
3) Who fell dead because he thought his wife had died, like Romeo and Juliet?
- Marcellin Berthelot
- Fritz Haber
- Walter Noddack
- Hans Euler von Chelpin
The answer is Walter Noddack; he enjoyed a life-long scientific partnership with Ida Noddack. Their partnership began as they were looking for elements 43 and 75, they discovered the latter (rhenium) but their claims on what they called masurium was never substantiated. Walter died after failing to get news from his wife who was bedridden in the hospital.
Fritz Haber survived his wife Clara née Immerwahr, a gifted chemist, for almost 20 years. Clara committed suicide after her husband had overseen the first gas attack in Ypres in 1915. (more on Fritz Haber and Clara Immerwahr)
Marcellin Berthelot discovered a synthesis of formic acid from carbon monoxide that is still used today. He died a few hours after his wife Sophie. Sophie became the first female to enter the Panthéon in Rome, because the children did not want to separate their parents in death any more than they had done in life.
Hans Euler von Chelpin was a German-born Swedish biochemist who won the 1929 Chemistry Nobel Prize with Arthur Harden for their investigations on the fermentation of sugar and enzymes. Hans Euler von Chelpin met Astrid Cleve as they were both working at Uppsala University, they initiated joint work and got married in 1902. Ten years and five children later, they got divorced and the next year, in 1913, Hans remarried his laboratory assistant, Beth af Ugglas with whom he led a fruitful collaboration that had started in 1909. Beth outlived her husband by nine years. (more on Hans Euler von Chelpin)
4) Which couple were initially lab partners during university years and apparently did not get along well at first? Their joint research as a married couple, spurred by their shared love of chemistry, earned him the Nobel Prize.
- Jerome Karle and Isabella Lugoski
- Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier
- Herman Staudinger and Magda Woit
- Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner
- Linus Pauling and Ava Helen Miller
Jerome and Isabella Karle married in 1942, and together they conducted X-ray crystallographic studies. Jerome established equations that explained how atoms were organized in molecules. Isabella experimentally investigated whether the equations were correct.
This work earned Jerome and Herbert A. Hauptman the Nobel Prize in 1985. Jerome and many others considered Isabella should have been included. Isabella was apparently not offended by this, as she had received several awards for her experimental work. They actually had independent careers on top of their joint work.
Magda and Hermann Staudinger met when they both already had their Ph.D. and developed a strong collaboration through all of their marriage. In his Nobel lecture, Hermann mentions Magda’s scientific work explicitly as he reviews colleagues he owes to, considering and citing her as a scientist in her own right.
Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner were not a couple, even though their collaboration spanned over several decades, starting with the discovery of protactinium during WWI. Despite being abundantly nominated for Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry, and their joint discovery of nuclear fission published in 1938, Lise never was awarded a Nobel prize. Otto alone was acknowledged for their joint discovery of fission with the Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1944.
Linus Pauling met Ava Helen Miller in 1922 as she was attending his classes of chemistry and they got married one year later. She worked as a part-time laboratory assistant for her husband supporting him in his career by taking notes, making models, and completing other small tasks, and later accompanying him in his numerous travels. Ava Helen was a political and social activist, and she introduced Linus to various issues such as racial equality or pacifism. Linus Pauling’s 1962 Nobel Peace Prize owes a lot to his wife.
You can find more on Antoine and Marie-Anne Lavoisier in Answer 2. Antoine Laurent lived in the 18th century, therefore he could never have gotten the Nobel Prize.
5) Which scientist married her mother’s assistant?
- Ada Yonath
- Mildred Cohn
- Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin
- Irene Joliot-Curie
Irene Curie was the daughter of Marie and Pierre Curie, and a brilliant scientist in her own right. She married Frédéric Joliot, Marie Curie’s assistant, in 1926. The couple used the name Joliot-Curie. Marie Curie apparently first disagreed with the relationship and was concerned that Joliot was trying to take advantage of the name Curie. Frédéric and Irène went on to be the second couple to win a Nobel prize together.
Mildred Cohn received many awards for her fundamental research in the fields of biological and physical chemistry. She married the physicist Henry Primakoff in 1938. In Elga Wasserman’s book “The Door in the Dream: Conversations With Eminent Women in Science”, Mildren is quoted as saying “My greatest piece of luck was marrying Henry Primakoff, an excellent scientist who treated me as an intellectual equal and always assumed that I should pursue a scientific career and behaved accordingly.” (more on Mildred Cohn)
Dorothy Mary Crowfoot Hodgkin is known as a pioneer of the study of biomolecules by X-ray crystallography. She used this technique to determine the structure of many biochemical molecules; most notably, these included cholesteryl iodide, penicillin, vitamin B12, vitamin B12 coenzyme, and insulin. She was awarded the 1964 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for “her determinations by X-ray techniques of the structures of important biochemical substances”. Dorothy had a love affair with John Desmond Bernal, the key scientific advisor to the British government during World War II and an outspoken and vocal member of the Communist Party, before marrying Thomas Lionel Hodgkin, an intermittent member of the Communist Party who later wrote major works on African politics and history. (more on Dorothy Hodgkin)
Ada Yonath, 2009 Nobel Prize in Chemistry winner along with Venkatraman Ramakrishnan and Thomas A. Steitz for her studies on the structure and function of the ribosome. She was married to a high school teacher.
Do you know of any couple in chemistry that is not mentioned here? Share their stories with us!
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- Nobel Prize-awarded couples, NobelPrize.org 2015. (Retrieved February 9, 2021)
- For Better or for Worse? Collaborative Couples in the Sciences, Annette Lykknes, Donald L. Opitz, and Brigitte Van Tiggelen (Eds), Birkhäuser, Basel, Switzerland 2012.
- Women in Their Element. Selected Women’s Contributions to the Periodic System, Annette Lykknes and Brigitte Van Tiggelen (Eds) World Scientific, Singapore, 2019. https://doi.org/10.1142/11442
- John Loeffler, 7 Scientific Couples Who Changed the Way We See The World, Interesting Engineering 2019. (Retrieved February 9, 2021)
Also of Interest
- Vera Koester, Annette Lykknes, Brigitte Van Tiggelen, A Fresh View on the History of Science, ChemistryViews 2019. https://doi.org/10.1002/chemv.201900084