Women in research: What connects Solvay with Irene Joliot-Curie?

Irene Joliot-Curie, a scientist who fought for equality between men and women

Price Irene Joliot Curie Click to enlarge

Until the beginning of the 20th century, research was the exclusive preserve of men. Only very few women had access to the world of science, among whom Marie Curie is the most eminent. A winner of the Nobel Prize, she was the first woman invited to the Solvay Conferences in 1911, and would remain the only female participant until 1933, when she was joined by her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and Lise Meitner. Three women among the very elite of the scientific community! Unfortunately, this percentage has changed very little since then...

When Irene Joliot-Curie, a renowned scientist and winner of the 1935 Nobel Prize for the discovery of so-called “artificial” radioactivity, was refused membership of the French Academy of Sciences in 1951, she denounced the exclusion of women from this venerable institution. More than 10 years later, her collaborator, Marguerite Perey, was the first women to be admitted at the Academy. Today, only about 10% of the Academy members are female.

A prize designed to promote the role of women in scientific research

Apart from the Solvay Conferences, another link was created between Irene Joliot-Curie and Solvay in September 2016, when the Irene Joliot-Curie Prize was awarded to Solvay researcher Sylvaine Neveu in the category “Women, Research and Enterprise”.

By choosing Sylvaine Neveu for this award, the French Ministry of Education, Higher Education and Research and Airbus Group have honored a researcher driven by a passion for science and the pursuit of progress through innovation. Her scientific rigour and demanding standards, combined with her curiosity and open-mindedness, enable Sylvaine Neveu to master new areas of expertise with ease. Her expertise is recognized by her peers in the corporate environment, among customers, as well as in the world of academia.

Chemical research to provide solutions for global issues

Sylvaine Neveu’s work focuses in particular on process intensification, enabling her to contribute to the development of an increasingly eco-friendly and less energy-intensive form of chemistry. In the area of materials science, Sylvaine specializes in the design of, and applications for, precipitated silica and in the industrialization of these products. Precipitated silica is a substance with surprising properties, making it possible (among other things) to reinforce polymers such as elastomers. When used in tires, they help to reduce a vehicle’s energy consumption. These “green tires” are now fitted to more than 100 million vehicles annually worldwide. It is quite likely, therefore, that Sylvaine and her teams are helping you to reduce your CO2 footprint when driving.

Sylvaine Neveu, a woman researcher in the company, making gender equality a reality

Process engineering and the world of industrial production are traditionally areas dominated by men. When Sylvaine joined her department, women accounted for less than 20% of the managerial staff. Today, she is at the head of an entity where parity between men and women is respected. But a great deal still remains to be done, in Solvay as elsewhere. So Sylvaine hopes that, in the not-too-distant future, a woman in her position will have a 50% chance of having a woman as her immediate superior. There is still some way to go, though. Today, women in company research in Europe represent only 20%. At Solvay, we are at 30%, and we keep moving in the right direction.


Irene Joliot-Curie Prize 2016: Sylvaine Neveu, Prix "Women Research and Enterprise"