WORK AND LIFE OF MARIE SKŁODOWSKA-CURIE
The University of Liverpool
“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.”
– Marie Skłodowska-Curie
Born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867, as youngest of five children, Maria Skłodowska was brought up in a poor but well-educated family. She studied mathematics and physics. Unable to enroll in a Polish University because she was a woman, she took teaching jobs and continued to tutor herself until at the age of 24. By then she had saved enough money to enroll in the Sorbonne University of Paris.
There, she met Pierre Curie, a young professor in the School of Physics. They worked together and were married in 1895. Marie, as she was known in France, became a physics teacher at a girls’ school and she and her husband carried out their research at night. The 1896 discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel inspired Marie and Pierre Curie to further investigate this phenomenon.
Their pioneering research on radioactivity led Marie and her husband to discover polonium, which they named after her native Poland, in July 1898. That December they also announced the discovery of radium, which got its name from the Latin word for ray. Both elements were present in pitchblende (a uranium ore) in such small quantities that they eventually had to process tons of the ore to obtain meaningful amounts of both elements. On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie successfully isolate radioactive radium salts from the mineral pitchblende in their laboratory in Paris.
Together with her husband, she was awarded half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the Prize.
In 1903, Marie was awarded her doctorate from the University of Paris. Following her husband’s tragic death in 1906 the University offered his position as Head of the Physics Laboratory to Marie. She accepted and became the first woman to take a position as professor at the Sorbonne.
She founded her own research institute in 1909 and her determination and remarkable endeavors led to a second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in Chemistry for creating a means of measuring radioactivity.
During the First World War, Marie directed the Red Cross Radiology Service, developing mobile x-ray units, popularly known as petites Curies, and establishing some 200 radiological units at field hospitals.
Marie died in France in 1934 from aplastic anemia believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation. Due to high levels of radiation, her research and other personal papers are still considered too dangerous to handle and are kept in lead-lined containers; those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing. In the course of their research, the Curies coined the word “radioactivity”, defined an international standard for measuring radioactive emissions (the curie, symbol Ci) and had an element named after them (curium). Among the many honors she received, Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win the award in two different fields, Physics and Chemistry.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie broke down many barriers in science and played a leading role in redefining women’s role in society and science.
“Marie Curie – Facts”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 3 Oct 2017. https://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/marie-curie-facts.html
“The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903”. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 4 Oct 2017. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/