Women of History: Marie Curie


Science intrigues me. I get so excited after reading my physics lesson, or chemistry. Strange, I know, but that’s just me.

Most scientist that come to mind are men: Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Louis Pasteur, Isaac Newton, George Washington Carver…But today we’re going to talk about the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields.

Maria Skłodowski was born in Poland in 1867, the youngest of five children. Her mother died when she was ten, and less than three years before that, her oldest sister passed away. Her mother was a devout catholic, but her father was an atheist, so after her mother passed, she became agnostic.

Maria and her older sister both wanted to pursue their educations, but due to lack of funds, they came to an agreement. Maria would work and pay for her sister’s education, and after her sister graduated, the sister would do the same for Maria.

In 1891, Maria (or Marie, as she would be known in France) left Poland for Paris, France, where she studied physics, chemistry, and mathematics. She began her scientific career by investigating the magnetic properties of various steels. That same year Pierre Curie entered her life, and the two bonded over science. It didn’t take long for Pierre to purpose to Marie, but she refused, wanting to return to Poland and pursue her career in her native country.

That dream was quickly destroyed when she was refused a place at a university, due to her gender. She received a letter soon after, from Pierre, that convinced her to pursue her Ph.D. Pierre had already received his doctorate, and was promoted to professor. In 1895, Pierre and Marie were married.

During this time, William Roentgen discover X-rays, which lead Marie to studying uranium. From this study, she discovered polonium and radium. She went on to develop methods of separation of radium from it’s radioactive residues with enough to be able to study its qualities.

In 1903, Pierre and Marie were awarded the Nobel Prize for physics, for their study of radiation. In 1911, she received her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, in recognition of her radioactive work.

At this time, people didn’t understand the dangers of radiation. They encouraged people to use radium to help relieve suffering int WWI, radium was put in toothpaste, and in many other daily products. Due to constant use of radioactive equipment and study, Marie became ill and died in 1934, at the age of sixty six.

I skimmed over a lot of Marie’s life, because I wasn’t sure how much would interest my readers. If you’re intrigued with science, by all means, go do a more detailed search of Marie. Her work is so exciting to learn about and it’s crucial to understand the history of medicine.


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