Sunday, October 24, 2021

Elemental Women:

The Forgotten Women of Science

Writer and actor, Janina Birtolo, performs at the Marco Players Theater as the Polish chemist and physicist Marie Curie. Photo by Samantha Husted

Writer and actor, Janina Birtolo, performs at the Marco Players Theater as the Polish chemist and physicist Marie Curie. Photo by Samantha Husted

Who is Janina Birtolo?

One day she’s famed pilot Amelia Earhart and on the next she’s Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt. She’s also been known to throw on a Mary Todd Lincoln costume now and again.

The writer and actor has made a name for herself performing original one-woman plays about history’s most notable women. In her shows, Birtolo introduces her audiences to pioneering ladies, whose impact on the world has seldom been recognized.

Her most recent project, titled Elemental Women, honors the achievements of lesser-known female scientists from history to present day. In many ways, the show gives a modern voice to the scientists that history forgot. The presentation illustrates the many women who have made major scientific contributions to the world, but went largely unrecognized due to their gender.

Elemental Women was created in honor of Birtolo’s late sister Roberta Williams, who died suddenly in 2005. Roberta was a chemist and a biology professor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.

“I decided that to honor her and honor her memory I would put together a program on a bunch of female scientists,” Birtolo said.

In Elemental Women, Birtolo assumes the identity of Marie Curie, a Polish chemist and physicist who is credited with pioneering groundbreaking research on radioactivity. Marie Curie was awarded two Nobel Prizes in her lifetime. She was also the first woman appointed to the position of professor at the University of Paris. Birtolo’s sister had always wanted her to do a performance as the scientist, who she regarded highly.

As Marie Curie, Birtolo educates her audiences on an array of women who have impacted the scientific world at large. Notably included in her presentation is Rosalind Franklin, who is best known for her contribution to the discovery of the DNA double helix.

Rosalind Franklin’s research resulted in a Nobel Prize for her male contemporaries, James Watson, Francis Crick, and Maurice Wilkins. She, however, died at the young age of 37 without ever having received the proper accolades for her work.

Elemental Women highlights the difficulties women in science have faced. Equality, opportunity, and education were not a guarantee for many of them. However, they were able to overcome adversity and sexism to make profound contributions to their fields.

The show celebrates these women’s achievements while simultaneously recognizing the struggles they endured to achieve them. It educates the audience on outstanding women whose contributions to the world may not be known.

According to Birtolo, it is her hope that Elemental Women will encourage more women to pursue a scientific path. While the world is more receptive to female scientists, women are still underrepresented in the field. By highlighting these scientists, Birtolo is advancing the cause for equality and hope for the future.

For more information on Janina Birtolo visit

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