November 7, 1867
Born in: Warsaw, Poland
Nationality: Polish, French
Career: Physicist and Chemist
Died on: July 4, 1934
Marie Curie was a very renowned physics and chemist, mainly known for being a pioneer in the field of radioactivity. She was the female professor at the University of Paris and till date, is the first and only person honored with Nobel Prizes in two different sciences. Wife of fellow-Nobel-laureate Pierre Curie, she was also the founder of the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. Though Curie was born and brought up in Poland, she later gained French citizenship. Being proud of her Polish roots, she named the first new chemical element that was discovered by her as "polonium", after her native country.
Marie Curie was born as ‘Maria Sk³odowska’ on 7th November 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was born to Bronis³awa Sk³odowski and W³adys³aw Sk³odowski, both of them teachers, with the latter teaching mathematics and physics. Marie had four siblings, all of whom were older to her, Zofia (born 1862), Józef (1863), Bronis³awa (1865) and Helena (1866). She experienced tragedy at a very young age, when she first lost her sister Zofia to typhus and later, suffered from the death of her mother, from tuberculosis.
Following these events, she lost faith in her Roman Catholic religion and become an agnostic. Right from her childhood, Marie exhibited an exceptionally strong memory. At the same time, she was so much interested in study that at times, she used to forget to eat food or even have her sleep. She graduated from a Russian lyceum at the age of sixteen and came first in her class. She also received a gold medal on completion of her secondary education.
Though Marie was a brilliant student, her gender as well as the Russian reprisals, following Polish 1863 uprising against Tsarist Russia, resulted in her admission being denied by a regular university. She attended Warsaw's illegal Polish Floating University, while working as a teacher alongside, in order to support her family financially. She also worked as a governess for sometime, during which she went through an unhappy love affair. She used the money earned from her jobs to support Bronis³awa’s medicine study, in Paris.
Education and Scientific Work
In 1891, Marie went to Paris, to join her sister, and enrolled herself at the University of Paris. There, she studied mathematics, physics and chemistry. She got her undergraduate degree in 1893, coming first. She completed her master's degree in mathematics, from University of Paris, in 1895. It was during her years at the University of Paris that she met and married Pierre Curie. Both of them shared common interests and started doing research together. By April 1898, Marie-Pierre arrived on the conclusion that pitchblende must contain traces of an unknown substance far more radioactive than uranium.
Two months later, they published an article, telling the world about the existence of an element, which they named polonium. Later that year, in December, they announced the existence of a second element, named radium for its intense radioactivity. In the next few years, the couple processed tons of pitchblende, mainly concentrating the radioactive substances and eventually isolating the chloride salts. In April 1902, they managed to refine radium chloride. However, the isolation of Polonium was still not a reality.
The couple, in an unusual gesture, did not patent the radium-isolation process, with the aim of letting the scientific community do research in the field, totally unhindered. In 1903, Marie received the first Nobel Prize of her life, in Physics, which she shared with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel. With this, she became the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. The same year, she received her DSc from the University of Paris, under the supervision of Henri Becquerel. She became the first woman in France to complete a doctorate.
In 1905, election took place for membership to French Academy of Sciences. Marie lost by just one vote, mainly because of the academy’s prejudice against women. Marie lost her husband, Pierre, in a street accident on 19th April 1906, leaving her devastated. She was rumored to be having an affair with physicist Paul Langevin, a married man who had left his wife, resulting in a huge scandal. In 1909, she became the first female professor of the University of Paris, after being named to her late husband's chair in physics.
In 1911, Marie received the second Nobel Prize of her life, this time in Chemistry. With this, she became the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes. In fact, till date, she is one of only two people to be awarded a Nobel Prize in two different fields. To add to it, Marie is also the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes and the only person to have won Nobel Prizes in two different science fields. During World War I, she encouraged the use of mobile radiography units, known as petites Curies ("Little Curies"), for the treatment of wounded soldiers.
Along with that, she also donated her and her husband's gold Nobel Prize medals for the war effort. In 1921 and again in 1929, Marie toured the United States, to raise funds for research on radium. On her second tour, she managed to garner enough funds to equip the Warsaw Radium Institute, which she founded in 1925, with her sister Bronis³awa as director. In her later years, Marie headed the Pasteur Institute, along with a radioactivity laboratory, which was created for her by the University of Paris.
Marie Curie left for the holy abode on 4th July 1934, near Sallanches (Savoy), after suffering from aplastic anemia. The anemia is said to be the result of her excessive exposure to radiation, as she had carried out most of her work in a shed, without any safety measures. She was interred at the cemetery in Sceaux, along with her husband Pierre. Sixty years later, in 1995, the remains of the couple were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris, mainly as a mark of respect and honor. Marie’s laboratory is still preserved in the Musée Curie.
Marrie met Pierre Curie at the University of Paris. He was an instructor in the School of Physics and Chemistry, the École Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles de la Ville de Paris (ESPCI). On the other hand, she was a student at the University of Paris. It is said that their mutual interest in magnetism drew Marie and Pierre together and the union resulted in marriage. The couple had two daughters - Irène Joliot-Curie and Ève Curie. The elder one (Irène) won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935, while, the younger one (Ève) wrote the biography, Madame Curie, after her mother's death.
- Nobel Prize in Physics (1903)
- Davy Medal (1903)
- Matteucci Medal (1904)
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911)