All of the conference rooms in our new headquarters of Heliopolis are named after famous scientific figures of the late 19th and 20th centuries. These figures include scientists who upended our understanding of the universe’s composition, blazed trails in nuclear physics and engineering, and broke barriers in aerospace and mathematics. Read on to learn more about the namesakes behind Phoenix’s conference rooms:
Marie Curie (1867 – 1934), a Polish and French physicist who became famous in the late 19th and early 20th centuries for discovering and coining the term radioactivity and the first known radioactive elements (radium and polonium), was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two separate scientific categories (physics and chemistry). Curie’s discovery of radioactivity ushered in a new era of physics and chemistry and her achievements as a female scientist broke down barriers in the scientific community.
Ernest Rutherford (1871 – 1937), known as the “father of nuclear physics,” was a New Zealand nuclear physicist considered “the greatest experimentalist since Michael Faraday.” Rutherford’s discoveries include the concept of radioactive half-life, alpha and beta particle radiation, and the radioactive element radon. His famous gold foil experiment decisively established a superior model of atomic composition, that of a small positively charged nucleus containing the majority of the atom’s mass surrounded by nearly massless negatively charged electrons, to the commonly accepted “plum pudding” model at the time.
Praised by Albert Einstein as “the second Marie Curie,” Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968) was an Austrian-Swedish physicist responsible for many contributions to the study of radioactivity, including the discovery of nuclear fission alongside Otto Robert Frisch and Otto Hahn. Driven from her native Austria due to her Jewish ancestry in the 1930s, Meitner was critical of her contemporaries in Germany and across Europe who turned a blind eye to the Nazi regime. When she passed away in 1968, she was eulogized as “a physicist who never lost her humanity.”
Max Planck (1858 – 1947) was a German theoretical physicist responsible for developing quantum physics as a solution to the black-body radiation problem. His discovery of Planck’s constant, a fundamental unit of electromagnetic energy, was the basis of a universal set of fundamental physical units essential to the mechanics of quantum theory, which governs the behavior and interactions of the universe on the atomic and subatomic level. Quantum physics, for which Planck was awarded a Nobel Prize, radically altered our understanding of the universe in a similar manner as Einstein’s theory of relativity.
Creola Katherine Johnson (1918 – 2020) was an African-American mathematician who, in the mid-20th century, earned a reputation for manually solving complex orbital calculations and pioneering the use of computers at NASA. As one of the first African-American women involved in the United States’ space program, Katherine Johnson was critical to the success of many operations including the Project Mercury and Apollo spaceflights. In 2015, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and received the Congressional Gold Medal in 2019. Johnson was the subject of the 2016 biopic Hidden Figures which dramatized Johnson and her coworkers’ success in the face of pervasive racial discrimination.
Enrico Fermi (1901 – 1954), known as the “architect of the nuclear age,” was an Italian-American physicist responsible for numerous breakthroughs in the field of nuclear physics, including the development of the first nuclear fission reactor, and also made significant contributions to statistical mechanics, quantum theory, and particle physics. Fermi was known by his colleagues as a renaissance man in his fields, though he had few interests outside of physics, and for having an uncanny knack for finding the shortest, simplest, and most direct solutions to problems that would stump his contemporaries.
Cecilia Payne (1900 – 1979) was a British-born American astronomer and astrophysicist who first proposed in the early 20th century that stars were comprised primarily of hydrogen and helium, against the majority scientific consensus at the time. Within a few years scientific observation proved the conclusion of her doctoral dissertation correct and her contemporaries lauded her work “the most brilliant PhD thesis ever written in astronomy.” A trailblazer in the male-dominated scientific community, Payne’s career marked a turning point for women in science.
Erwin Schrödinger (1887 – 1961) was an Austrian-Irish physicist responsible for many developments in the field of quantum theory, as well as thermodynamics, electrodynamics, general relativity, and cosmology. Schrödinger is most well known for the “Schrödinger’s Cat” thought experiment which illustrates the apparently-paradoxical nature of quantum superposition, but won the Nobel prize in 1933 for his formulation of the Schrödinger equation, which is the quantum equivalent of Newton’s second law of motion in classical mechanics.
Murray Gell-Mann (1929 – 2019) was an American physicist whose work on elementary particles earned him the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1969. His research was essential to the development of our modern understanding of the composition of elementary particles, being one of the first to postulate the existence of quarks as the building blocks of matter. Quarks were later proven to exist by subsequent experiments with particle accelerators. These breakthroughs led to the development of the Standard Model, the current widely accepted theory of the composition and interactions of all known elementary particles.
Heliopolis’ smallest conference room is named after the microcurie, a unit of measurement of radioactivity equal to one millionth of a curie, or 37,000 disintegrations per second. The curie, named after Pierre and Marie Curie, is approximately equivalent to the radioactive decay of one gram of radium-226. The curie was the primary unit of measurement for radioactivity from its introduction in 1910 onward, and while the International System of Units named the bequerel the official SI unit for radioactivity in 1975, the curie is still widely used throughout government, industry and medicine in the United States and in other countries.