Two Great Women: Madam Curie & Ghulam Sughra Solangi

Two Opinions on Uncovering Our Greatness

This is a monthly column on uncovering our greatness, co-authored by Dr Amit Nagpal from India (who talks about a Westerner) and Michael Thallium from Spain (who talks about an Easterner). We aim to share the success stories of great human beings and wish to inspire the readers to uncover their greatness too.


Dr Amit Nagpal, India

Madam Curie – A Woman of Substance and More

Marie CurieThe joke went that Marie was her husband Pierre’s greatest discovery. The couple made some great scientific discoveries, and wrote many research publications together. In fact Pierre’s career rocketed after meeting Marie. What created this Midas touch in Marie? Let’s find out.

Courageous women have always fascinated me. In today’s world, it is much easier for a woman to be courageous. But a hundred years ago, when societies were patriarchal in real sense of the term, it was certainly not easy.

I have deeply admired women like Rani Laxmibai & Devi Ahilyabai from India, and Marie Curie & Maya Angelou from around the world.  Many of us would have pondered on questions such as, “What was the source of strength for such women? Was it a supportive father or relative, was it the inner strength which comes from connecting with deeper self or something else?” In this post I decided to dig deep into the story of Marie Skłodowska-Curie popularly known as Madam Curie and associated with the discovery of radium (along with her husband and life purpose partner).

Marie was born in Poland and migrated to France later. In spite of coming from a well educated and prosperous family, she had a difficult childhood as her father contributed finances to freedom movement of Poland. Her father, Władysław Skłodowski, taught mathematics and physics and had a strong influence on her career. Women were not allowed to enroll for formal education in those days and, she and her sister Bronisława became involved with the clandestine Flying University, a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning that admitted women students. Later during her higher education in Paris, she could not afford proper food and often fainted due to hunger.

It was their mutual interest in natural sciences that brought and drew Pierre and Marie together. Their mutual passion for science brought them closer and closer. Eventually Pierre proposed marriage and they became more than life partners, or life purpose partners. Their two shared pastimes viz. long bicycle trips, and journeys abroad, added to their magical relationship.

She was a physicist-chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. Not only she was the first woman ever to win a Nobel Prize, but also the only woman to win twice, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. WOW what an amazing woman of substance.

She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and later received the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Her achievements included formulating a theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research even today.

Being a woman, she faced an obstacle at every step and nevertheless she kept persevering. Curie was awarded her doctorate from the University of Paris in 1903. The same month the Royal Institution in London invited the couple to give a speech on radioactivity. Marie was prevented from speaking, because of being a woman. Another tragedy struck Marie three years later when Pierre was killed in a road accident.  Curie was obviously deeply disturbed by her husband’s death.

In 1921, US President Warren G. Harding invited her to the White House and presented her with the first radium extracted in the United States. She was honest and humble to the extent that she even returned her scholarship as soon as she began earning. Instead of living a lavish life, she gave much of her Nobel Prize money to friends, family, students, and research associates. She even requested that gifts and cash awards should be given to the scientific institutions she was affiliated with instead of her. It is believed that Albert Einstein remarked that Marie was probably the only person fame could not corrupt.

Her love for radioactivity actually led to her death too. The harmful impact of radioactive substances on human health had not been discovered in those days. She died at mere 66, due to aplastic anemia brought on by exposure to radiation from radium and X rays.

Marie remains an icon in the scientific world and a true role model. New Scientist carried out a poll in which Marie Curie was voted the “most inspirational woman in science”. Poland and France declared 2011 the Year of Marie Curie.The United Nations declared the same year as the International Year of Chemistry in her honour.

Her book “Radioactivity”, was published in 1935 after her departure. From alarm clocks to AC remotes, as soon as you see something with radium, you are reminded of the immortal Marie Curie.


Michael Thallium, Spain

Ghulam Sughra Solangi – A Woman of Courage

Ghulam Sughram SolangiImagine you are woman. It is not very difficult to do so if you are already one. Now imagine you are a twelve year old girl. Not too difficult either, if you are already one, although I pretty much doubt you would be reading this if you are a twelve year old girl. If so, congratulations, because this is about you… well, not exactly about you, but about us all. Now let’s say you are that twelve year old girl living somewhere with your parents and you want an education because you are illiterate, but you are forced to get married to a man older than you. Then you deliver your first child at age 13 and your second at age 15. By the time you are 20 years old your husband abandons you and your children. You get divorced… That may seem very unlikely to happen in certain parts of the world, like in Europe, for instance, but unfortunately that is not so uncommon in other parts of the world. If you don’t believe it, let me tell you that is exactly what happened to Ghulam Sughra Solangi when she was a child.

Ghulam Sughra Solangi was born in a little village in Pakistan in 1970. After her ordeal as a child and a young woman (she was just about to commit suicide), she decided she wanted to be on her own with her two children and something got into her head that turned her nerves to steel. She wanted to get an education despite all difficulties and oppositions. At age 31, Sughra completed a Bachelor in Education and later in 2003 she earned a Masters in Sociology. Sughra has helped thousands of rural women in Pakistan. She is the Founder and CEO of Marvi Rural Development Organization ( and received the International Women of Courage Award in 2011.

The reason why I chose to write about Ghulam Sughra Solangi needs an explanation. A couple of years ago, Dr Amit Nagpal from India and I started a series of articles on great people, but we stopped writing for over a year. Then we decided to come back to our collaboration and we chose to write about great women. He would choose a woman from the Western World and I would choose a woman from the Eastern World. My surprise was that, generally speaking, if you search on the Internet, you realise there is a lot more of information about “great” men in history than “great” women and even more information about Western women than Eastern women. In other words, it seems there have not been great women in history, which is not true of course. So, I said to myself, there must be a woman from the East I can write about and she must be alive. There you go! I didn’t choose Ghulam Sughra Solangi because of her great achievements in life or because she received many different awards. I chose her because, to me, she represents millions of women in the world who struggle and, against all odds, they thrive.

I like to write about people I know or people I am somehow in touch with. That is why I tried to contact Sughra via email a couple of weeks ago, but I wasn’t succesful. So, by the time I write these lines I just know about her because of what I read on the Internet. However, she reminds me of another woman I met some years ago, Tina Kpan from Liberia, a woman of courage and a Social Worker who is helping lots of children in her country.

The world is full of people who are not famous, but they really do great things. Learning how to see those things is not an easy task, specially in a world full of too much negative information. I am a man and like me, there are millions of men in the world. I am not a woman, but I can’t help acknowledging all of those women in the world who make the planet a better place. I really tried to imagine I was a twelve year old girl forced to get married and deprived from education. It is a hard thing to do and I would not like to be on her shoes. But knowing that the little girl kept going and thrived by helping other girls and women, that inspired me and I think I made the right choice to write about Sughra, because this article, in the end, is not about her, it is not about women. It is about us!

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