Saturday, July 3, 2010

Marie Curie Conference

I first heard about the post-doc position I now hold from an e-mail to the geo-metamorphic email list, and it wasn’t until I received a copy of the contract that I found out that by accepting the position I was becoming a Marie Curie Fellow. Since my very favorite book when I was a child was my copy of a children’s version of Madame Curie, a bibliography written in 1938 by her daughter Eve, I was quite delighted to find out that my funding is associated with such an amazing woman. Spending my childhood reading (over and over) about her love of learning, and how much she sacrificed in her youth to be able to attend University was probably a factor in my own love of learning and drive to attend University.

One of my favorite glimpses into her personality takes place after she has, after years of hard work, managed to isolate the element radium from pitchblende ore. Soon after that accomplishment was published she and her husband, Pierre, who had abandoned his own research to assist her with hers when he realized how important her work was, received a letter from a fellow scientist asking them to please share with him the details of the process so that he, too, could obtain pure radium for his studies. She and Pierre discuss it, acknowledging that since they invented the process they could charge people money to share the details. Had they gone that path they would have likely become quite rich thereby. However, they both agreed that in science it is far more important to freely share knowledge than to sell it—selling ideas was simply not appropriate in their minds.

I very much agree with them on this point. Consequently, the couple of hours of lectures at this week’s conference for Marie Curie Fellows (held in conjunction with the EuroScience Open Forum) which focused upon questions on intellectual property and the process of obtaining (and selling) patents rubbed me the wrong way. While I have no doubt that if Marie could know that there are 1000’s (I guess—there were over 400 of us at the conference) of people who are receiving funding to do research in other countries in her name she would feel honoured and delighted that so many talented scientists were getting such good opportunities, I also feel that she would not have approved of the message presented by those two speakers or who seemed, to me, to be equating science with an opportunity to gain financial profit.

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