All in the Family: The Dynasties That Changed Science

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

By Lacy Schley|Thursday, January 03, 2019

The Curies

Marie Curie
Pierre Curie
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
Chemist and physicist

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

Irène Joliot-Curie

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

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

The Alvarezes

Luis Walter Alvarez
Wikimedia Commons
Luis Fernandez Alvarez

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

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

Luis Walter Alvarez

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

The Leakeys

Louis and Mary Leakey digging in the Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania.
Wikimedia Commons
Louis Leakey
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
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– )
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– )

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

John Herschel
Wikimedia Commons
Sir William Herschel

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

Sir John Herschel
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

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

Alexander Stewart Herschel

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

William James Herschel
British officer
One of the first people to use fingerprints for identification.
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