KEYWORDS: Branca Edmée Marques, chemistry, physics, Marie Curie, radioactivity
SHE THOUGHT IT
Branca Edmée Marques was a Portuguese scientist who dedicated her scientific work to the research and teaching of nuclear chemistry and radiochemistry. She spent five years in France at one of the most important research centres of the time, the Institut du Radium de Paris, doing research and preparing her doctorate thesis under the mentorship of one of the most famous scientists of all time, Marie Curie. After Curie’s death, she kept working with André Debierne, the chemist who discovered the element actinium, a close collaborator of Marie Curie and her successor in the direction of the Institute. Marques deserves to be acknowledged for her notable contributions to the advancement of scientific research in Portugal, in particular at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon, where she spent most of her life 1. She was the founder of the Laboratory of Radiochemistry, the precursor of the Centre for Radiochemistry Studies and the first research laboratory of chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon2 (p. 745). The first to implement and develop research on radioactivity and its associated discoveries at the Laboratory of Chemistry, Branca Edmée Marques played an important role in the development of scientific knowledge in this specific field.
The daughter of Berta Rosa Marques and Alexandre Théodor Roux, Branca Edmée Marques de Sousa Torres was born in Lisbon, Portugal, on 4 April 1899. Her childhood was marked by the death of her father, who passed away when she was only eight years old. As a result, it was her mother who took care of her further education. After finishing secondary school, Branca Edmée Marques enrolled at the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon to study physics and chemistry. Having obtained the highest marks in all subjects, Marques was offered a position in Huambo, Angola while still a student; however, she declined it in order to stay in Lisbon and finish her degree1. As her brilliance did not go unnoticed, Marques received an offer again; soon enough, she was invited to take a chemistry assistant position at the faculty in 1924, one year before graduating1. By accepting, she became the first and only woman (at the time) to work at the university’s Laboratory of Chemistry.
Branca Edmée Marques married António Silva Sousa Torres, professor at the Faculty of Sciences of the University of Lisbon and naturalist at the Geologic and Mineralogic Museum of Lisbon, but she only accepted to be married on condition that she could go to Paris for research purposes3.
In 1930, after a few years of working as an assistant, Marques requested a scholarship to study abroad, which was awarded to her in November 1931. Within a month, accompanied by her mother due to her husband’s request3, she was in France working at the Curie Laboratory at the Radium Institute, doing research on nuclear physics and radioactivity1. By then, Marie Curie was already very famous, which was a great opportunity for Branca Edmée Marques, who worked and studied under her guidance for three years, until Curie’s death in 1934. Impressed by her work, Curie wrote to the Portuguese government in 1932 requesting an extension to Marques’ fellowship1. Unfortunately, the grant was not renewed, but they found a way to allow Branca to continue with her research, which was later turned into a doctoral thesis, as Curie advised. In 1935, a year after Marie Curie’s death, Branca Edmée Marques earned her doctorate degree from the Sorbonne in Paris with her thesis New research on the fragmentation of radiferous barium salts [Nouvelles recherches sur le fractionnement des sels de barium radifère]. She was awarded the highest doctoral academic distinction in the French university system, and a year later her doctorate was recognised equivalent to the doctor degree in Physicochemical Sciences of the Portuguese Universities 1.
Although she was invited by Debierne to stay in Paris and proceed with her work at the Institute, Marques decided to return to Lisbon to the Faculty of Sciences. In 1936, she established the Laboratory of Radiochemistry, the first research laboratory in chemistry at the Faculty of Sciences, which later became known as the Centre for Studies on Radiochemistry2 (p. 745). The Centre had a meaningful role in the transmission of scientific knowledge, providing training for students, researchers ant technicians. Marques did her research mainly in nuclear chemistry and radiochemistry and she was also interested on therapeutic applications of radioisotopes1. She continued to publish regularly, both individually and with colleagues, in Portuguese journals, proceedings of national and international conferences and in prestigious international journals, such as the Comptes Rendus de l’Académie des Sciences de Paris and the Journal de Chimie Physique; some of her papers were cited by numerous scientists, such as Irène Joliot-Curie, amongst others1.
Despite having had a PhD since 1935, Branca Edmée Marques resumed her previous position as assistant in Portugal and it was only in 1942 that she became first assistant. Having qualified as Professor Agregado in 1949, it was only in 1966, more than thirty years after coming back from France to work at the University of Lisbon, that her contributions were awarded with a full professorship1.
Branca Edmée Marques taught radiochemistry until the end of her career, but remained the director of the Centre for Studies on Radiochemistry until almost the end of her life. She died in 1986, at the age of 871.
SCIENTIFIC COLLABORATION AND RECOGNITION
Marques maintained her collaboration and interchange with the Institut du Radium for years, she returned to Paris several times and colleagues from the Institut visited her laboratory. In order to keep up to date with international research, she visited some of the most important European laboratories of her field. She was also member of several scientific societies: the Portuguese Society of Chemistry and Physics, of which she was Vice President of the Lisbon Centre for several years; the Society of Chemistry and Physics in France; the French Society of Physics; and the Lisbon Geographical Society1. In 1967, she was invited as a former collaborator of Marie Curie to participate in the centennial celebrations of her birthday. She also represented the Faculty of Sciences of Lisbon and the Portuguese Society of Chemistry and Physics in several International meetings.
Despite her great skills, the advantages and knowledge she gained by working with Marie Curie at one of the most successful research institutes at the time and the importance of the work she did through her life, Marques had to overcome many obstacles along her career mostly because of her sex, namely the extreme slowness of her progression in the university career. During her days at the University of Lisbon, research had not yet the place it deserved and the work of Marques and other pioneers opened new windows for research in Portugal. For this same reason, Branca Edmée Marques is recognised today as one of the first scientists to play a significant role in bringing radioactivity and research laboratories to the Faculty of Sciences at the University of Lisbon2 (p. 747).
SHE SAID IT
Look, Antonio, I will gladly marry you […] but I won’t say yes unless I have your answer. It’s about my studies … I want to go to Paris.
Marques to her soon-to-be husband, cited in Janeira, Ana Luísa (2008), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Primeira Catedrática de Ciências (Entrevista)”, in Sara Marques Pereira et al. (coord.), Feminino ao Sul: História e Historiografia da Mulher. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2008, p. 84.
In the old days, being a woman was worse than being a wild beast. People didn’t want them… they wanted to work with men. It was considered an offense to be sent a woman to work with…
Marques about sending female students to work with experts, cited in Janeira, Ana Luísa (2008), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Primeira Catedrática de Ciências (Entrevista)”, in Sara Marques Pereira et al. (coord.), Feminino ao Sul: História e Historiografia da Mulher. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2008, p. 117.
I will apply anyway. Because if they want to tell me “no” thirty times, I will do the same thirty times.
Marques, about applying for a scholarship to go to Paris to study under Mary Curie, cited in Janeira, Ana Luísa (2008), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Primeira Catedrática de Ciências (Entrevista)”, in Sara Marques Pereira et al. (coord.), Feminino ao Sul: História e Historiografia da Mulher. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2008, p. 86.
THEY SAID IT
She was a superb experimentalist and, due to her efforts, in 1939, the measurements done at her lab were comparable to those done in Paris and in 1950 to Harwell and Ammersham.
Viegas, Franisca / Isabel Serra / Elisa Maia (2008), “Radioactivity and Portuguese Women Scientists“, Third ICESHS, Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences, p. 747.
Je certifie que Mme. Branca Edmée Marques a travaillé très utilement dans mon Laboratoire depuis le début de Novembre de 1931. Mme Marques a employé d’abord son temps pour se mettre au courant de la technique des mesures au laboratoire e pour apprendre les méthodes utilisées pour le dosage du radium e de l’uranium dans les minéraux. Ayant constaté le soin avec lequel elle s’est acquittée de sa tâche, je lui ai confié depuis trois mois une recherche personelle sur les conditions dans lesquelles s’effectue le fractionnement des sels de baryum radifère. Cette recherche a pour but de préciser les notions de coefficients de fractionnement e de partage envisagés dans quelques travaux antérieurs relatifs à cette question. Le travail de Mme Marques est en bonne voie, et je pense qu’il donnera des résultats intéressants. Pour pouvoir le continuer je sais que Mme Marques sollicite la prolongation de la bourse dont elle bénéficie actuellement, et j’espère qu’il est désirable qu’elle obtienne cette prolongation pour encore une année.
Marie Curie’s letter to the Director of the National Education Section, in Portugal, supporting Marques’s request of extending her scholarship, in 1932. In Carta de Marie Curie ao Presidente da Junta de Educação Nacional, 24 de Março de 1932, Espólio Científico de Branca Edmée Marques, Biblioteca Central, FCUL.
PRIZES, ACHIEVEMENTS, HONOURS
1935: Awarded a doctoral degree (Doctorat d’État) in physical sciences with the mention très honorable – the highest academic distinction in the French academic system
1936: Her Doctorat d’État was recognised and accredited with the degree of Doctor of Physical and Chemical Sciences of the Portuguese Universities
2009: A street in the main campus of the University of Lisbon (Cidade Universitária de Lisboa) was renamed ” Rua Branca Edmée Marques” in her honour.
Exhibition And Yet, They Move! Women and Science [E contudo, elas movem-se! Mulheres e Ciência], Rectorate of the University of Porto, Portugal, 10-29 september, 2019. [an illustration of Branca Edmée Marques by Miguel Praça is displayed at the exhibition]
E contudo, elas movem-se! Mulheres e Ciência (com poemas) (2019), Org. Ana Luísa Amaral e Marinela Freitas. Porto: U.Porto Edições [the book contains a short bio on Branca Edmée Marques, as well as an illustration by Miguel Praça].
WORKS BY BRANCA EDMÉE MARQUES
“Sur la Répartition du Radium dans la Précipitation Fractionnée du Chlorure de Baryum Radifère” (1933), C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 196, 1309-1311.
“Sur la Cristallisation Fractionnée du Chlorure de Barium Radifère” (1933), C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 197, 1314-1315.
“Sur la Distribution du Radium dans les Cristaux de Bromure de Baryum Radifère” (1934), C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 198, 819-821
“La Précipitation Fractionnée du Sulfate de Baryum Radifère” (1934), C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 198, 1765-1767.
Nouvelles Recherches sur le Fractionnement des Sels de Baryum Radifère (1935), Thèse, Serie A, n.º 1585 (Paris: Les Presses Universitaires de France).
“Contribuition à l’Étude du Fractionnement des Sels de Baryum Radifère” (1936), J. Chim. Phys., 3, 1-40.
“Distribution du Radium dans les Cristaux des Sels de Baryum Radifère” (1936), J. Chim. Phys., 33, 219-225.
“Nouvelle Méthode de Séparation du Radium par Appauvrissement Rapide en Baryum (1936)”, J. Chim. Phys., 33, 306-312.
with C. Chamié, (1939), “Sur une Propriété des Radiocolloids”, C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 209 877-879;
with C. Chamié, and H. Faraggi (1949), “Sur les Activités en Profondeur de l’Argent Irradié par Deutons ”, C. R. de l’Acad. des Sc. de Paris, 229, 358-360.
“Novos dados sobre o comportamento do polónio em meio ácido” (1950), Revista de Chimica Pura e Aplicada, 1 (2), 123-47.
“Os actinídeos e uma pesquisa de Neptúnio e de Plutónio na Pechblenda da Urgeiriça” (1950), Rev. F.C. Lisboa, 2.ª série, B vol. I, 203-24.
“Marie Sklodowska Curie – Grandes Lições Dadas pela História da Sua Vida (1867-1934)” (1963), Ciência, 1 (Nova Série), 29-34.
with Maria Regina Sales Grade (1970), “Poluição radioactiva nas águas naturais”, Revista da Sociedade Portuguesa de Química, 12 (140), 140-47.
Homem, Armando Luís de Carvalho (2018), “Mulheres doutoras nas universidades portuguesas (1926-1960)”, Faces de Eva. Estudos sobre a Mulher, 39, 75-92.
Janeira, Ana Luísa (2008), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Primeira Catedrática de Ciências (Entrevista)”, Feminino ao Sul: História e Historiografia da Mulher. Coord. Sara Marques Pereira, Maria de Deus Manso e Marília Favinha. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2008.
Matos, S. C., & Ó, J. R. (coord.) (2013), A Universidade de Lisboa nos séculos XIX-XX, I e II. Lisboa: Tinta da China.
Ferreira, Maria Alzira Bessa Almoster Moura (2001), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Uma Pioneira de Ciência”, in Memórias de professores cientistas, sci. coord. Ana Simões. Lisbon: Faculty of Sciences of University of Lisbon, 50-57.
- Ferreira, Maria Alzira Bessa Almoster Moura (2001), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Uma Pioneira de Ciência”, in Memórias de professores cientistas, sci. coord. Ana Simões, Lisbon, Faculty of Sciences of University of Lisbon, 50-57, <http://memoria.ul.pt/index.php/Torres,_Branca_Edm%C3%A9e_Marques_de_Sousa#cite_note-0> (last accessed 3 January 2017).
- Viegas, Francisca / Isabel Serra / Elisa Maia (2008), “Radioactivity and Portuguese Women Scientists, Third ICESHS, Vienna, Austrian Academy of Sciences, 743-47, <http://www.fisica-e-quimica-na-politecnica.org/03ARTIGOS/artigos/12_VIENA_VIEGAS_2008.pdf> (last accessed 3 Jan. 2017).
- Janeira, Ana Luísa (2008), “Branca Edmée Marques (1899-1986). Primeira Catedrática de Ciências (Entrevista)”, Feminino ao Sul: História e Historiografia da Mulher. Coord. Sara Marques Pereira, Maria de Deus Manso e Marília Favinha. Lisboa: Livros Horizonte, 2008.