Vol. 1 No. 1 (2017)
Historical Articles

Science is Not a Totally Transparent Structure: Ştefania Mărăcineanu and the Presumed Discovery of Artificial Radioactivity

Marco Fontani
Università degli Studi di Firenze, Firenze, Italy
Mary Virginia Orna
The College of New Rochelle, New York, USA
Mariagrazia Costa
Università degli Studi di Firenze, Firenze, Italy
Sabine Vater
Freiberg University of Mining and Technology, Freiberg, Germany

Published 2017-03-02


  • M?r?cineanu,
  • artificial radioactivity,
  • history of chemistry

How to Cite

Fontani, M., Orna, M. V., Costa, M., & Vater, S. (2017). Science is Not a Totally Transparent Structure: Ştefania Mărăcineanu and the Presumed Discovery of Artificial Radioactivity. Substantia, 1(1), 77–96. https://doi.org/10.13128/Substantia-14


A not very recent, but widely documented, event whose echo still resounds, the discovery of artificial radioactivity, might still cause some historians to lose a little sleep. The topic of this article recounts a noble attempt by historians of science to make known to the general public a woman who managed - in a backward country like România Mare -  to ascend the ranks of the university hierarchy and enter the hallowed halls of Academe. We could talk about a Romanian Madame Curie, similar to Lise Meitner (1878-1968), who embodied the same figure for the German world; but Romanian historians add other ideas.
Stephanie (Ştefania) Mărăcineanu (1882-1944) - the correct spelling of her name is in brackets - according to some would be nothing less than the discoverer of artificial radioactivity as well as the chemical transmutation of lead into gold and mercury, and of artificial rain. The discovery of induced or artificial radioactivity is universally attributed to the daughter and the son-in-law of Marie (1867-1934) and Pierre Curie (1859-1906). Furthermore, Irène Joliot-Curie (1897-1956) and her husband, Frédéric Joliot (1900-1958) were awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry 1935 for this work. This study is divided into both an historic framing of the real and presumptive discoveries and in an analysis of the original data in light of our current knowledge of physics. An initial historic study, albeit partial, and with the aim of shedding light on the female personalities in the field of radioactivity, has already been done. Other scholars have examined Ştefania Mărăcineanu's work focusing on its social, political, cultural and ideological aspects. But no matter how much scientists try to be objective, they must always struggle between their beliefs and their human prejudices, including all of their habits of thought more or less imposed, and often inadvertently, by the society and the country in which they are formed.  It will therefore be our task to take account of the difficulties hitherto reported, and for that it will be absolutely necessary to exercise judicial restraint.