Marie S. Curie (1867-1934) was a Polish-born, French scientist known for her work in discovering radioactivity. Her work shaped medicine, warfare and scientific research for countless generations earning her Nobel prizes in both physics and chemistry 1,3.
Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born, 7th of November 1967 Warsaw, Poland into a once Nobel Polish family under heavy Czarist Russia oppression 1. Maria’s upbringing would focus heavily on the gift of education and the endowment in passing it onto others, a mantra to which Maria abided wholeheartedly 1,3. She excelled in both private and public education, considered gifted among her peers. Upon graduation, Marie and her sisters embarked on what is now known as a ‘gap year’ traveling to outskirts of the country visiting relatives and indulging in festivities.
Marie eventually sought further education at the ‘Flying University’ an illegal university dedicated to the education of female scientists under Russian oppression based in Warsaw 2.
Maria agreed to provide financial support to her sister, Bronisława, while she studied medicine in Paris. The agreement was that the favor would be repaid in turn. While working as a governess in Warsaw, Maria would work in secret with her cousin Jozef Boguski, studying chemistry and performing 'wet chemistry' experiments, the birth of her passion 2.
In 1891, at the age of 23, Maria enrolled to study at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1893 with a “Licence des Sciences” furthermore receiving a license in mathematics in 1894. In that same year, she would eventually meet her future husband, a scientist named, Pierre Curie 1-3.
Research into radioactivity
Pierre and Marie examined magnetism in their laboratories for years. Though, it was the 1895 discovery of x-rays by a Conrad Roentgen that would change the direction of their research 1-3.
An experiment in which uranium rays, like x-rays, were observed to ‘electrify’ the air sparked Marie's interests so much she decided this to be the basis of her doctrine. Marie measured radioactivity using piezoelectric electrometers developed by her husband, Pierre. In 1898, a paper was presented to the Academy of Sciences titled ‘"Rays emitted by uranium and thorium compounds" in which it was proposed that each element had unique ‘radioactivity’ and one could conclude the composition of a material based on its ‘radioactivity.’
Polonium and Radium
Curie then proposed one could isolate a new element in the radioactive substance known as ‘pitchblende’ now known as uraninite.
For years Marie and her husband worked at isolating, purifying and describing Polonium and Radium thanks to a sizeable donation of 10 tonnes of pitchblende by the Austrian Government.
The Curie's shed was known to have beamed with luminescent of the radioactive materials, a fact today that would concern any budding occupational health and safety pundit. Consequently, the entire family would development signs of ill health.
Marie succeeded in extracting Radium and Polonium, concluding her thesis in 1903 successfully obtaining a ‘Docteur des Sciences Physiques’.
Marie went on to design ‘radiology cars’ to assist soldiers in the front line during WW1, the cars were equipped with x-ray units and darkrooms to tents through the front lines 1. During this time Marie oversaw the training of 400 physicians as radiologists and over 1000 technologist to operate the machinery.
Curie passed away on the 4th of July, 1934 in Passy, Haute-Savoie from what is now believed to be aplastic anemia from long-term exposure to radiation.
- Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1911
- the discovery of radioactivity
- the discovery of polonium and Radium