An interview Stephen Hawking gave to the New Scientist magazine this week might have focused on the physicist's work, but it was his response to the question "What do you think most about during the day?" that intrigued most observers. "Women," said Hawking. "They are a complete mystery." Hawking's two divorces have attracted much public attention, but when it comes to love and the laboratory, his life is far from the most intriguing.
He wasn't quite an Einstein when it came to managing his love life. Papers released in 2006 revealed that, while away working, Einstein wrote near-daily letters to his wife Elsa and step-daughter Margot about his many affairs with various Russian spies and the mysterious "Mrs M".
In 1923, the American entomologist named a moth, the story goes, in an effort to woo a woman named Gretchen. He called it Gretchena and gave each species in the genus a name reflecting his feelings for her. Hence the Gretchena concubitana ("lying together").
The Austrian theoretical physicist most famous for his paradoxical cat reportedly kept a series of "little black books'' featuring the names of his lovers and codes as to when each affair ended. He had illegitimate daughters with three mistresses and, according to a 1990 biography by a fellow scientist Walter Moore needed "tempestuous sexual adventures'' to fuel his inspiration.
Perhaps due to sexual double standards, Curie was one of the few scientific greats publicly castigated for her love life. After Pierre Curie was run over by a horse-drawn carriage in 1906, Marie took Pierre's (married) student Paul Langevin as a lover. The revelation of their affair – they would meet in a rented apartment in Paris – was described as the city's "biggest scandal since the theft of the Mona Lisa" and almost meant Curie couldn't collect her second Nobel. The Swedish Academy was so outraged that it tried in vain to stop Curie from attending the 1911 ceremony. Einstein, naturally, told Curie to "continue to hold this riff-raff in contempt".
Additional reporting by Lauren York