Glimpses of Genius

More Than a Century Old, Roswell Park's Guest Book Records a Visit From Marie Curie and Other Luminaries
Thursday, September 6, 2018 - 11:00am

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The old book doesn’t look like much. Its red fabric cover is faded. The edges of the pages have yellowed, and there are no photos or illustrations inside — just page after page bearing signatures. 

Look closely at the names and dates, and exciting stories from Roswell Park’s history come to life. The Institute’s official guest book records more than a century’s worth of visits by eminent people, including two U.S. presidents (William Howard Taft in 1910, Richard Nixon in 1972); Francis Crick, co-discoverer, with James Watson, of the double helix structure of DNA; and Georgios Papanicolau, inventor of the Pap test for early detection of cervical cancer. Here are the names of physicians, scientists and dignitaries from all over the world — Uganda, Bangladesh, France, Norway, Iraq, the Soviet Union, Chile, Taiwan and dozens of other countries. They came to Roswell Park to learn from experts at the world’s first cancer center, to share their own knowledge and experience, to forge partnerships aimed at strengthening the human arsenal against cancer.

Here is just one distinguished visitor who left a lasting mark in both the guest book and the field of science:

Marie Curie — June 17, 1921

When Marie and Pierre Curie discovered radium in 1898, the couple set the stage for the use of radium therapy to treat cancer. In 1920, Roswell Park — then called the New York State Institute for the Study of Malignant Disease — became one of the first institutions to adopt this treatment method. The breakthrough was made possible with an appropriation of $225,000 from the New York State Legislature to buy 2-1/4 grams of the costly radioactive element, with the purpose of making the treatment available at the Institute for any U.S. citizen who needed it, free of charge.

By that time Madame Curie was a widow, for Pierre had died in 1906. Although she had twice won the Nobel Prize for her achievements, she was unable to continue her research on the very element she had discovered, because the price had soared far out of reach. Rallied by journalist Marie Meloney, American women across the country came to the aid of the world-renowned scientist, donating amounts large and small to purchase $100,000 worth of radium — a single gram — on her behalf. Madame Curie came the United States in 1921 to accept the gift from President Warren G. Harding during a ceremony at the White House.

Accompanied by her two daughters, Irène and Eve, Madame Curie came to Buffalo during her American tour. She and Eve visited Roswell Park, where they met with Institute faculty to discuss the effects of radiation on tumors.

Irène, who signed the guest book with her mother, went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

Learn more about the remarkable life of Marie Curie in Marie Curie: A Biography, written by her daughter Eve. 

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