Who is Marie Curie?
- She was a physicist and chemist who pioneered research in radioactivity
- She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize
- She was the first person and only woman to win a Nobel Prize twice (once in Physics and once in Chemistry)
- She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw, which are major medical researching centers today
- She developed portable radiography units to help battlefield surgeons in WW1
- Due to radioactive contamination, her research papers are too dangerous to handle; they’re currently stored in lead-lined boxes and to view them, people must wear protective clothing
Why is Marie Curie important?
Curie was the pioneer of research in radioactivity, so much so that she even coined the term. Her findings have provided the basis for all related studies, influencing our knowledge and continued research in radioactivity even today. Curie also helped save countless people in WW1 by developing mobile radiography units for battlefield surgeons, becoming the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and training countless other women as aides. Her units likely treated over one million wounded soldiers. Not only did her knowledge and research prove valuable, her accomplishments are a great source of inspiration for women everywhere.
Marie Curie Biography
Born in Warsaw in November of 1867, Maria Skłodowska was the youngest of five children. Among her siblings, she often went by the nickname Mania. Marie’s father taught mathematics and physics at a school for boys. He was an atheist, while Maria’s mother was Catholic. After Maria’s mother and sister died, she gave up Catholicism and became agnostic. Despite excelling in school, she struggled with depression at a young age.
Despite her smarts, Marie was unable to enroll in higher education because she was a woman. However, along with her sister, she became involved with a secret Polish patriotic institution that accepted female students, called Flying University. It took Marie years of financial struggles and a move to Paris to finally begin her scientific career.
In 1893, Marie received a degree in physics from the University of Paris; she received a second degree the next year. During her studies, she met Pierre Curie, with whom she shared a mutual interest in the sciences—and whom she later married. He was also the one who convinced her to earn a Ph.D.; some modern people have joked that she was his greatest discovery.
Her first true introduction into a career in science started when the Society for the Encouragement of Natural Industry commissioned her for a study in the magnetic properties of different kinds of steels. Later, in 1895, X-rays were discovered, and Marie looked to uranium for her thesis research. She and her husband collaborated often in their studies.
Just six months after receiving her Ph.D. in 1903, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Marie Curie, her husband, and Henri Becquerel. The committee had only intended to award the men, but after Pierre was alerted to the situation, he raised a complaint, and Marie was justly added to the award.
Pierre died in a road accident in 1906, and a distraught Marie was hired to replace her husband at the University of Paris. It was her hope that she could honor her husband by accepting the position. Later, she went on to found the Curie Institute. In 1910, she successfully isolated radium; a year later, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
During WW1, Marie developed mobile x-ray units to assist battlefield surgeons. She helped install over 200 vehicle and hospital units, which went on to treat over one million wounded soldiers over the course of the war. After the war, Marie continued her research, winning awards and prestigious positions from a number of respected centers. During this time, she also wrote a biography of her husband. Marie Curie died in 1934 of aplastic anemia, caused by her long-term exposure to radiation.
Marie Curie Quotes
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end,each of us must work for our own improvement and, at the same time, share a genaral responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think can be most useful.”
“A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.”
“You must never be fearful of what you are doing when it is right.”
Preview image: The Maryland Science Center