Born November 7, 1867
Died July 4, 1934
Curie (Polish Maria Sklodowska-Curie, November 7, 1867 – July
4, 1934) was a Polish-French physicist and chemist. She was a pioneer
in the early field of radioactivity, later becoming the first two-time
Nobel laureate and the only person with Nobel Prizes in two different
fields of science (physics and chemistry - due to the effects of sharing,
she effectively obtained 1.25 Nobel Prizes). She also became the first
woman appointed to teach at the Sorbonne. She was born a Pole in Warsaw,
and spent her early years there, but in 1891 at age 24, moved to France
to study science in Paris. She obtained all her higher degrees and conducted
her scientific career there, and became a naturalized French citizen.
She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw.
Birthplace of Maria
Sklodowska-Curie in Warsaw's "New Town."Born in Warsaw, Poland,
then under the control of the Russian Empire, her early years were sad
ones, marked by the death of her sister from typhus, and four years
later, her mother. She was noted to have an amazing memory and a diligent
work ethic, neglecting even food and sleep while studying. After graduating
from high school at the top of her class at the age of fifteen, she
was depleted of energy and was sent to the countryside to recover. Due
to her gender and Russian (anti-Polish) reprisals following the January
Uprising, she was not allowed admission to any university, so she worked
as a governess for several years and attended the illegal Flying University.
Eventually, with the monetary assistance of her elder sister Bronia,
she moved to Paris. She went to high school at the Collège Sévigné,
and then studied physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne, later becoming
the first woman to teach there.
At the Sorbonne,
she met and married another instructor, Pierre Curie. Together they
studied radioactive materials, particularly the uranium pitchblende
ore, which had the curious property of being more radioactive than the
uranium extracted from it. By 1898 they deduced a logical explanation:
that the pitchblende contained traces of some unknown radioactive component
which was far more radioactive than uranium; thus on December 26th Marie
Curie announced the existence of this new substance.
Over several years
of unceasing labour they refined several tons of pitchblende, progressively
concentrating the radioactive components, and eventually isolating the
chloride salts (refining radium chloride on April 20, 1902) and then
two new chemical elements. The first they named polonium after Marie's
native country Poland, and the other was named radium from its intense
Maria Sklodowska Curie Nobel Prize DiplomaIn 1903 she became the first
woman in France to complete her doctorate.
Together with Pierre
Curie and Henri Becquerel, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics,
1903: "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered
by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor
Henri Becquerel". She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel
Prize. Eight years later, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry,
1911 "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry
by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation
of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable
element". In an unusual move, Curie intentionally did not patent
the radium isolation process, instead leaving it open so the scientific
community could research unhindered. Just one month after accepting
her 1911 Nobel Prize, Marie was hospitalized with depression and kidney
trouble. Whenever Marie was feeling especially depressed she took a
trip to the country to relax.
She was the first
person to win or share two Nobel Prizes. She is one of only two people
who has been awarded a Nobel Prize in two different fields, the other
being Linus Pauling. As of June 2006, she remains the only woman to
win two Nobel prizes.
Dolega Coat of
ArmsAfter her husband's death from a street accident, she supposedly
had an affair with physicist Paul Langevin, a married man who had left
his wife, which resulted in a press scandal, exacerbated by her academic
opponents in order to damage her credibility. Despite her fame as an
honored scientist working for France, the public's attitude to the scandal
tended towards xenophobia — she was a foreigner, from an unknown
land (Poland was still referred to as a geographical area, under the
Russian Tsar), an area known to have a significant Jewish population
(Marie was raised as a Catholic, and was born in a gentry family [ Dolega-Sklodowski],
but she later became an atheist). France at the time was still reeling
from the effects of the Dreyfus affair etc, so the scandal's effect
on the public was all the more acute. It is a strange coincidence that
Paul's grandson Michel later married her granddaughter Hélène
During World War
I, she pushed for the use of mobile radiography units, named "Little
Curies" (or "petites Curies"), for the treatment of wounded
soldiers. These units were powered using tubes of radium emanation,
a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later to be identified
as radon. Marie personally provided the tubes, derived from the radium
she purified. Promptly after the war started, she donated her and her
husband's gold Nobel Prize Medals for the war effort.
In 1921, she toured
the United States, where she was welcomed triumphantly, to raise funds
for research on radium.
In her later years,
she was disappointed by the myriad of physicians and makers of cosmetics
who used radioactive material without precautions.
Marie Sklodowska-Curie's first scientific endeavors in Ulica Krakowskie
Przedmiescie in Warsaw.Her death near Sallanches in 1934 was from aplastic
anemia, almost certainly due to her massive exposure to radiation in
her work, much of which was carried out in a shed with no proper safety
measures being taken, as the damaging effects of hard radiation were
not generally understood at that time. She was known to carry test tubes
full of radioactive isotopes in her pocket, and to store them in her
desk drawer, resulting in massive exposure to radiation. She was known
to remark on the pretty blue-green light the metals gave off in the
At first, she was
buried at the same cemetery in Sceaux where Pierre lay, but in 1995
their ash was transferred to the Panthéon to honour their works.
Her eldest daughter,
Irène Joliot-Curie, won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935.
Her younger daughter
Eve Curie wrote the biography Madame Curie after Marie's death.
In 1995, Madame
Curie was the first and only woman laid to rest under the famous dome
of The Panthéon in Paris on her own merits (alongside her husband
There is a 1943
U. S. Oscar-nominated film based on her life.
An extremely ahistorical
Marie (Manya or Manyusya as it was when she was born) Curie appears
as a character in the 1988 comedy Young Einstein by Yahoo Serious.
Jean-Noël Fenwick's 1989 lighthearted drama, "Les Palmes de
M. Schutz," is based on the early romance and scientific collaboration
of Marie and Pierre Curie. A 1997 movie version starred Isabelle Hupert
as Mme. Curie.
was on the Polish inflationary late-1980s 20,000-zloty banknote. Her
picture also appeared on the last French 500 franc note (with her husband
Pierre Curie), and on stamps and coins.
Element 96 Curium
(Cm) was named in honour of her and Pierre.