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All in the Family: The Dynasties That Changed Science

About the influential families of science and the legacies they left behind.

By Lacy Schley
Apr 18, 2017 8:49 PMNov 21, 2019 10:16 PM
Luis Alvarez - Wikimedia Commons
Luis Walter Alvarez (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)


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The Curies

Pierre Curie (1859-1906) Physicist and chemist

Originally specialized in crystallography, but joined his wife’s research. Their discovery of radioactive elements radium and polonium earned them the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, shared with Henri Becquerel.

Marie Curie (1867-1934) Chemist and physicist

Won a second Nobel Prize, in chemistry, in 1911, for continued study of radioactive elements.

Irène Joliot-Curie (1897–1956) Chemist

Shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband for research on radioactivity and for creating the first artificial radioactive element, phosphorus.

Ève Curie Labouisse (1904–2007) Writer, journalist and diplomat

Best remembered for writing Madame Curie, a best-selling biography of her mother.

The Alvarezes

Luis Fernandez Alvarez (1853–1937) Physician

Developed a better way to diagnose the macular form of leprosy.

Walter C. Alvarez (1884–1978) Physician

Pioneered the study of the stomach’s electrical activity and founded electrogastrography, a non-invasive technique for diagnosing certain digestive conditions.

Luis Walter Alvarez (1911–1988) Physicist

Contributed to the Manhattan Project and several key government radar projects in World War II; won the 1968 Nobel Prize in Physics for work on a liquid hydrogen bubble chamber.

Walter Alvarez (1940– ) Geologist

Along with his father, developed the hypothesis that an asteroid impact wiped out the dinosaurs.

The Leakeys

Louis Leakey (1903–1972) Archaeologist and paleoanthropologist

Key figure in advancing the theory of our African origins; also promoted primate field research and helped Jane Goodall get her start.

Mary Leakey (1913–1996) Archaeologist and paleoanthropologist

Sometimes working with Louis and sometimes on her own, made several major hominin finds, including Homo habilis, our distant ancestor.

Colin Leakey (1933– ) Plant biologist

Currently a leading expert on the genetics of beans.

Richard Leakey (1944– ) Paleoanthropologist

Primarily known for coordinating several important African digs, his leadership of Kenyan cultural and wildlife conservation groups, and his positions in Kenyan government.

Meave Leakey (1942– ) Paleoanthropologist

Has led teams in Africa’s Turkana Basin that have discovered new hominin species.

Louise Leakey (1972– ) Paleontologist and anthropologist

Heads the Koobi Fora Research Project, which focuses on finding human fossils in the Turkana Basin.

The Herschels

Sir William Herschel (1738–1822) Astronomer

Besides discovering Uranus and making many other astronomical observations, was the first to map the Milky Way’s disk-like shape.

Sir John Herschel (1792–1871) Astronomer, mathematician, chemist and photographer

Among many other things, helped found the Royal Astronomical Society; made significant contributions to cataloging the Southern Hemisphere’s night sky and to the field of photography.

Caroline Lucretia Herschel (1750–1848) Astronomer

Valuable assistant to her brother and an astronomer in her own right: Her discoveries include eight comets.

Alexander Stewart Herschel (1836–1907) Astronomer

Made many observations of astronomical objects, including meteors and comets.

William James Herschel (1833–1917) British officer

One of the first people to use fingerprints for identification.

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