People on the Move

Crossing frontiers

Science and technology

Today more than ever academics and scientists travel extensively to work on location or present their findings to their peers. Some choose to definitively settle abroad because of a unique working opportunity, or because they find it to be a stimulating environment for groundbreaking research.

Ornithologist, naturalist and illustrator John Audubon made the journey from Saint Domingue to France, not by choice but from necessity. Born out of wedlock to a French planter/slave trader and a Creole woman, he was obliged to accompany his father to France, his country of origin, in 1789. Expected to join the army at 18, Audubon’s family sent him to America. He embarked upon studying birds, and would eventually end up in Labrador, Canada. In his career Audubon identified 25 bird species and 12 subspecies. His illustrations of birds in their natural habitats attest to exceptional observational talents and artistic skills. Original copies of Birds of America have been sold in recent years for over 10 million dollars.

Albert Einstein is a further example of a scientist whose migration has played an important part in shaping our world.

In 1906, at 17, he renounced German citizenship in favour of  Swiss nationality. In 1914, he entered civil service in Germany and regained his citizenship. In 1933, he fled the growing power of the Nazis, to take up a teaching position at Princeton in the USA. Maintaining dual citizenship with Switzerland, he adopted American citizenship in 1940.

Tying together theories involving quantum mechanics, gravity, thermodynamics, electromagnetism and optics for the first time, Einstein has changed the way we look at energy, matter, gravity, space and time. Without him, nuclear power, GPS tracking and smartscreen technology would not be where they are today - see this retrospective from the archives of his scientific career on the occasion of his death at the age of 76.

Turin-born Rita Levi-Montalcini specialised in neurology and psychology. Being of Jewish ancestry in Mussolini’s Italy, she was excluded from any academic position. She moved to Belgium (1938) to continue her research. Later, during World War II, she hid in Florence under an assumed name. In 1947, Levi-Montalcini accepted a post at Washington University, eventually taking on American and Italian citizenship. In 1986, she was awarded the Nobel Prize. Her discoveries transformed our insight into how cells divide and multiply, and increased the understanding of tumors, malformations and dementia.

Scientist Nikola Tesla’s inventions and design of electrical systems have made modern times what they are.

Born in 1856 into a Serbian family in Smiljan, he studied engineering in Graz and Prague. In 1882 Tesla joined the Continental Edison Company in Paris, constructing his first induction motor after working hours. Almost broke, Tesla sailed for New York in 1884. He was employed by Thomas Edison but established his own lab after they fell out. His experiments involved currents, lamps, lighting, shadowgraphs, transmission technology and turbines.

After his death in 1943, Tesla’s letters and notes were impounded. They later befell to a nephew and are preserved in the Nikola Tesla Museum. Tesla’s work has inspired scientists all over the world, and many streets, institutions and public bodies carry his name - as does the famous electric car.

Marie Skłodowska Curie is one of the world’s most famous scientists.

She was the first woman who won the Nobel prize, and the first person to win two Nobel prizes. To this day, she remains the only one to have won in two different sciences. Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born and grew up in Warsaw. She financed the schooling of her sister in Paris and entered physical and mathematical studies at the Sorbonne herself in 1891. 3 years later she met Pierre Curie: her research partner and future husband, with whom she discovered polonium and radium. Marie Curie became the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne and carried out groundbreaking research in X-radiography. See a video of Marie in her laboratory in this short about her life.

After her death, she was the first woman to be enshrined in the Paris Panthéon. She inspired her daughter Irène to pursue a scientific career and millions of scientists ever since.