Madame Marie Curie visits LA

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Performance: Susan Marie Frontczak will portray the scientist as part of STEM day

By Special to the Monitor

In a series of performances from Sept. 11-14, storyteller Susan Marie Frontczak will portray perhaps the most famous of women scientists, Madame Marie Curie (née Maria Skłodowska). 

Curie changed the world through her discovery of radium and radioactivity. Through collaboration with the medical community, she and her husband Pierre discovered and established the first successful radiation treatments of cancer.  Simply through her own passion and perseverance, Curie opened the doors of science to women worldwide.

The morning of Sept. 11, Frontczak will visit Pojoaque High School science classes, telling Curie’s story and encouraging students in science and math. The same evening at 7:30 p.m., she will present a “Conversation with Marie Curie” at Fuller Lodge, sponsored by the Los Alamos Historical Society. 

On Sept. 12, Frontczak will lead a workshop about how to develop a presentation of a living history. Her repertoire includes not only Curie, but also Eleanor Roosevelt, Mary Shelley and Irene Castle. In addition, she has programs for grade school students in math and science. She will give participants guidance on how to make an historical character come to life. Her workshops are filled with encouragement, exploration and laughter. 

The workshop is at from 9:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. at the Bradbury Science Museum.  Sign up at PajaritoEEC.org.  Space is limited.

As part of the community weekend celebration of “The Next Big Idea,” Frontczak will do a one-woman performance of Curie at the Los Alamos Little Theater titled, “Manya, September 14.” The one-hour performance will begin at 4 p.m. for middle school and high school students who participate in STEM Student Day and have previously registered at nextbigidea.com/STEMday.

Class size is limited to the first 100 registrants.  This performance is not open to the public.

Frontczak’s performances honor a preeminent woman of science. Curie was the first European woman to earn a doctorate in the sciences; the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize (for the discovery of radioactivity); the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne; and the first person to receive a second Nobel Prize (a feat not to be repeated for another 50 years). Audiences will witness the origins of scientific discoveries now taken for granted. They will re-live the collaboration between husband and wife, Pierre and Marie, companion scientists.

The program also honors the wife and mother, who felt more daunted by the chemistry of the kitchen than of the laboratory. After the tragic death of her husband, Curie became a single mother, raising her two daughters, ages 16 months and eight years. 

The presentation also honors her Polish heritage.  Frontczak brings to light many of Curie’s lesser-known contributions, both social and scientific — and the obstacles she faced along the way.

Within her lifetime, Curie saw the curative effects of radiation on cancer. Late in life, she came to admit the dangers of working with radioactive materials. 

She died before the new understanding of the atom — initiated by her discoveries — produced the atomic bomb. 

Whether looking at Curie within her historical context or through the lens of a new millennium, this is a life that challenges the assumptions about what one person can achieve. 

Frontczak has traveled throughout the United States and Europe portraying Madame Curie. 

Curie’s perseverance in purifying a grain of radium from a ton of pitchblende was part of the inspiration for Frontczak to major in engineering, where she worked for 14 years before pursuing full-time writing and acting. 

She has always viewed both science and art as valid outlets for creativity. She believes that Curie’s inner complexity is not recognized, but deserves to be. It is her aim to reveal the human behind the scientist, while placing Curie’s life and accomplishments in a memorable historical context.

Frontczak’s portrayal of Curie has been written up in Chemical and Engineering News and has been given rave reviews by other national laboratories, including Lawrence Livermore and Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.  

Mark Grayson of Northwestern University said of her performance,  “Ms. Frontczak’s narrative style allows her to relive moments of Marie Curie’s life very vividly without being trite or theatrical.  She builds the suspense of the story about Madame Curie’s life, with all its remarkable quirks as well as tragedies.  It is one of the more remarkable pieces of theater I have seen. Ms. Frontczak’s presentation of Marie Curie is stunning.”  

 The  Pajarito Environmental Education Center, Los Alamos Historical Society, Los Alamos MainStreet’s Next Big Idea event, Bradbury Science Museum, Los Alamos National Bank, and Los Alamos National Laboratory Community Relations sponsor Fonrtczak’s presentations.