Marie Curie – Truly an Extraordinary Woman

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

On November 7, 1867, Marie Curie was born, French-Polish physicist, chemist, pioneer in research of radioactivity and double nobel laureate.

Marie Curie was born in 1867 to a Polish family that counted to the social group of Intelligentsia. Her father was a teacher of mathematics and physics and her mother was a school principle. She finished high school at the age of only 15, but unfortunately she was not allowed to attend university as a woman in Poland, she participated in private lessons by her father as well as secretly some classes at a private, underground university. In the 1890’s, Curie had the first chances to perform chemical and physical experiments, preparing for the admission tests at the University of Paris.

Marie Curie was finally able to attend the University in 1891, where she graduated as the best of her group. She kept researching after University and finally got to know Pierre Curie, back then head of a laboratory, where their relationship developed from being a great research team to becoming a married couple shortly after. Nevertheless she did not stop her experiments, Marie Curie made several discoveries about the magnetism of steel and even published some of her works.

At the end of the 1890’s, when Marie Curie looked for an adequate topic for her dissertation, she began working on the ‘Becquerel – radiancies’ and researched on uranium. Through the research projects, which she worked on together with her husband Pierre, she was able to coin the term ‘radioactive’ in 1898. They were able to isolate the new element Radium, a breakthrough for the chemistry of the 19th century. But despite her great success, she began showing the back then unknown symptoms of the dangerous radiations.

The Curie’s research projects were highly appreciated in the community, wherefore they were granted the needed support, mainly financially. Marie was able to determine the atomic mass of radium and also published her dissertation on radioactive substances. In 1903, Marie and Pierre were honored several times including the Nobel Prize of Physics, but due to her bad health situation, Marie was not able to attent the award presentation.

The public and media paid much attention to the research couple. After the sudden death of Pierre Curie, Marie was given the chance to give lectures at Sorbonne, and depicted the first woman to teach at the University, which caused even greater media attentions. She was awarded with the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 and was therefore not only the first woman to receive the prize, but also the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes in different disciplines.

Despite her bad health situation, Marie Curie worked restlessly on radioactivity and its behaviors under various circumstances. During World War I she equipped busses with mobile roentgen machines and drove them by herself to the war-front where she helped to diagnose the wounded soldiers. To one of her main goals also belonged the tough fight against cancer, wherefore she was awarded numerous times world wide.

Marie Curie belongs to the extraordinary scientists of the 19th and 20th century, working restlessly to reach their goals under hard political, social, and health-wise conditions. She is probably (along with Lise Meitner) the best known female physicist of all times and deeply admired by Albert Einstein, who once noted that “Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted“.

At yovisto you may enjoy the video ‘The three lives of Marie Curie‘ by Dr. Serge Plattard.

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