There’s a Little Curie in All of Us

If you know NGRA Board member Vicky Scharlau, who leads Washington Winegrowers, you know she “calls a spade a spade.” So, when she posts her “new favorite quote” on social media, you listen. What she shared was this: “Now is the time to understand more, so that we can fear less,” by Marie Curie. Certainly, as epidemiologists and virologists race to understand COVID-19, and develop treatments and a vaccine, Madame Curie’s words perfectly capture this moment in science. But it got me to thinking…

In addition to being the first person to win two Nobel Prizes (the first in Physics, the second in Chemistry), Marie Curie discovered (and ultimately died from exposure to) radioactivity, and she championed the development of X-rays for surgery. In fact, during World War I, she helped to equip ambulances with portable X-ray machines and often drove them to the front line herself. Those devices came to be known as “Little Curies.”

There are parallels in Madame Curie’s work to our research. Today, in viticulture, we seek to use and improve technologies (sensors, many of which are portable) to extend or deepen our view into vine and soil health, pest and disease issues, and quality, yield and other production metrics. This research (and other ongoing studies) are vital to the advancement of the grape and wine industry, and “proof” as Marie Curie also famously said, “that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it.” To those outside the grape and wine industry, our work may not be deemed essential. To us, it is critical.

And so we cheer the scientists who made sure to “bring the bench home,” as one article below quips, and endeavored to retool their workplans–and workplaces–to keep their research alive under shelter-in-place orders. We appreciate the administrators working with state and local officials to understand when and how faculty and students can return to campus, and labs can reopen and research can begin again (even if slowed by social-distancing requirements). And we applaud the vineyard and greenhouse workers who showed up to maintain research plots and experimental populations, under mask-and-glove conditions. You have ensured that grape research continues.

You don’t have to rush into battle or win a Nobel Prize (or two) to make a difference. But based on the hope, creativity, adaptability and perseverance displayed in the community of people who believe in science as a means to advance our industry, it seems there’s a little Curie in all of us. And thankfully, there are the Vicky Scharlaus of the world to help us remember that!