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 November 1867 Warsaw, Poland into a once noble Polish family under heavy Czarist Russia oppression 1. Marie’s upbringing would focus heavily on the gift of education and the power of passing it onto others, a mantra to which Marie 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 based in Warsaw dedicated to the education of female scientists under Russian oppression 2.
Marie 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, Marie enrolled to study at the Sorbonne, graduating in 1893 with a “Licence des Sciences”, furthermore receiving a licence 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 Wilhelm 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 interest so much that 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 on isolating, purifying and describing polonium and radium thanks to a sizeable donation of 10 tonnes of pitchblende by the Austrian Government.
The Curies' shed was known to have beamed with luminescence from the radioactive materials, a fact today that would concern any occupational health and safety pundit. Consequently, the entire family would develop 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 the First World War. The cars were equipped with x-ray units and darkrooms, bringing these facilities to tents throughout the front lines 1. During this time Marie oversaw the training of 400 physicians as radiologists and over 1000 technologists to operate the machinery.
Curie passed away on the 4th 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
- fundamental research into radioactivity
- discovery of polonium and radium
- curium, the chemical element with atomic number 96
- curie is the former unit for radioactive decay
- her daughter Irene 1897-1956 was to win a chemistry Nobel Prize in 1935 with her husband Frederic Joliot Curie for work on artificial radioactivity
- the Marie Curie museum in Warsaw housed in her birthplace is the only museum in the world devoted to her life and remarkable career
- 1. Susan Quinn. Marie Curie. (1995) ISBN: 9780201887945
- 2. Rockwell S. The life and legacy of Marie Curie. (2003) The Yale journal of biology and medicine. 76 (4-6): 167-80. Pubmed
- 3. The contribution of Marie Skłodowska-Curie to the development of modern oncology. (2011) Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry. 400 (6): 1583. doi:10.1007/s00216-011-4712-1 - Pubmed
Related Radiopaedia articles
History of radiology
- key milestones
- 1895: Wilhelm Roentgen detects x-rays
- 1896: Antoine Henri Becquerel discovers radioactivity
- 1896: Sydney Rowland founds the first radiology journal, Archives of Clinical Skiagraphy
- 1896: Thomas Edison invents the first commercially-available fluoroscope
- 1898: Marie Curie publishes her paper 'Rays emitted by uranium and thorium compounds'
- 1913: Albert Salomon commences research leading to mammography
- 1927: Egas Moniz develops cerebral angiography
- 1934: Frederic and Irene Joliot-Curie artificially produce radioisotopes
- 1936: John Lawrence uses phosphorus-32 to treat leukemia
- 1939: Kitty Clark publishes Clark’s Positioning in Radiography
- 1950s: David Kuhl invents Positron Emission Tomography (PET)
- 1953: Sven-Ivar Seldinger develops his famous technique
- 1957: Ian Donald invents fetal ultrasound
- 1964: Charles Dotter introduces image-guided intervention
- 1965: Benjamin Felson publishes his Principles of Chest Roentgenology
- 1972: Godfrey Hounsfield introduces the CT scanner (co-developed with Allan Cormack)
- 1977: Ray Damadian builds the first commercial MRI scanner
- 2005: Frank Gaillard creates Radiopaedia.org :)
- 2012: inaugural International Day of Radiology
key figures in the history of radiology
- Antoine Henri Becquerel
- Kathleen "Kitty" Clark
- Allan M Cormack
- Marie Curie
- Ray V Damadian
- Ian Donald
- Charles T Dotter
- Thomas A Edison
- Charles Thurstan Holland
- Godfrey N Hounsfield
- Frederick Joliot
- Irene Joliot-Curie
- David E Kuhl
- Paul C Lauterbur
- Peter Mansfield
- Egas Moniz
- Wilhelm C Roentgen
- Sven-Ivar Seldinger
- Albert Soiland
- Florence Stoney
- important figures in the history of radiology
- Nobel Prize winners in radiology
- history of modalities
- plain radiography
- nuclear medicine
- interventional radiology
- history of radiology journals
- history of radiology organizations
- United Kingdom
- United States
- pioneering radiology books