Fascinating facts about Marie Curie who
the study of radioactivity in 1903.
AT A GLANCE:
Curie is best known as the discoverer of the radioactive elements
polonium and radium and as the first person to win two Nobel prizes. For
scientists and the public, her radium was a key to a basic change in our
understanding of matter and energy. Her work not only influenced the
development of fundamental science but also ushered in a new era in
medical research and treatment.
DID YOU KNOW?
||Marie Curie (aka Marie
to patent. First practical.
||November 7, 1867 in
||July 4, 1934 in
radioactivity, discoverer of polonium and radium
Symbol Po and Ra
brilliant white, luminescent, highly radioactive metallic element
found in very small amounts in uranium ores. It is used in cancer
radiotherapy, as a neutron source for some research purposes, and as
a constituent of luminescent paints.
atomic number 84 and Radium atomic number 88
CAPS: Curie, Marie Curie, Marie Sklodowska, Marie Sklodowska Curie,
Irène Joliot-Curie, Marcel Brillouin, Paul
Painlevé, Gabriel Lippmann, and Paul Appell,
ARY, radioactivity, polonium, radium,
SIP, history, biography, inventor
Madame Marie Curie was the world’s
most famous woman scientist--and so she remains today. With her husband,
Pierre Curie, and the French physicist Henri Becquerel, and later on her
own, Curie pioneered the study of radioactivity (a word she coined).
as she was called before marriage, was born in Warsaw in 1867. Both her parents were
teachers who believed deeply in the importance of education. Marie had her first lessons
in physics and chemistry from her father. She had a brilliant aptitude for study and a
great thirst for knowledge; however, advanced study was not possible for women in Poland.
Marie dreamed of being able to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, but this was beyond the
means of her family. To solve the problem, Marie and her elder sister, Bronya, came to an
arrangement: Marie should go to work as a governess and help her sister with the money she
managed to save so that Bronya could study medicine at the Sorbonne. When Bronya had taken
her degree she, in her turn, would contribute to the cost of Marie's studies.
So it was not until she was 24 that Marie came to Paris to study
mathematics and physics. Bronya was now married to a doctor of Polish origin, and it was
at Bronya's urgent invitation to come and live with them that Marie took the step of
leaving for Paris. By then she had been away from her studies for six years, nor had she
had any training in understanding rapidly spoken French. But her keen interest in studying
and her joy at being at the Sorbonne with all its opportunities helped her surmount all
difficulties. To save herself a two-hours' journey, she rented a little attic in the
Quartier Latin. There the cold was so intense that at night she had to pile on everything
she had in the way of clothing so as to be able to sleep.
But as compensation for all her privations she had total freedom to
be able to devote herself wholly to her studies. "It was like a new world opened to
me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty", she
writes. And it was France's leading mathematicians and physicists whom she was able to go
to hear, people with names we now encounter in the history of science: Marcel Brillouin,
Paul Painlevé, Gabriel Lippmann, and Paul Appell. After two years, when she took her
degree in physics in 1893, she headed the list of candidates and, in the following year,
she came second in a degree in mathematics. After three years she had brilliantly passed
examinations in physics and mathematics. Her goal was to take a teacher's diploma and then
to return to Poland.
ended on April 19, 1906, when he was run over by a horse-drawn cart. His wife took over
his classes and continued her own research. In 1911 she received an unprecedented second
Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, for her work on radium and radium compounds. She
became head of the Paris Institute of Radium in 1914 and helped found the Curie Institute.
Marie Curie's final illness was diagnosed as pernicious anemia, caused by overexposure to
radiation. She died in Haute Savoie on July 4, 1934.
She met Pierre Curie in 1894, and they married in 1895.
Curie was interested in the recent discoveries of radiation. Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen had
discovered X rays in 1895, and in 1896 Antoine Henri Becquerel had discovered that the
element uranium gives off similar invisible radiations. Curie thus began studying uranium
radiations, and, using piezoelectric techniques devised by her husband, carefully measured
the radiations in pitchblende, an ore containing uranium. When she found that the
radiations from the ore were more intense than those from uranium itself, she realized
that unknown elements, even more radioactive than uranium, must be present. Marie Curie
was the first to use the term radioactive to describe elements that give off radiations as
their nuclei break down.Pierre Curie ended his
own work on magnetism to join his wife's research, and in 1898 the Curies announced their
discovery of two new elements: radium and polonium (named by Marie in honor of Poland).
During the next four years the Curies, working in a leaky wooden shed, processed a ton of
pitchblende, laboriously isolating from it a fraction of a gram of radium. They shared the
1903 Nobel Prize in physics with Becquerel for the discovery of radioactive elements.
Marie Curie was the first female recipient of a Nobel Prize, it was the first time a woman had ever won a Nobel. In 1911, Curie became the
first and only woman to win a second Nobel Prize. She earned, on her own, the award in
chemistry for isolating pure radium.
from The Great Idea Finder
Inventors, A Class Act from The
Great Idea Finder
ON THE BOOKSHELF:
Madame Curie: A
by Eve, Curie, Vincent Sheean (Translator) / Paperback: 448 pages / DaCapo Press; (March
By a woman writer who is also the daughter of Madam Curie. It is an excellent account of a
great woman who made a mark on history when (supposedly) women had little freedom or
Marie Curie and
the Science of Radioactivity
by Naomi E. Pasachoff / Hardcover Reissue edition (August 1996) / Oxford Univ Press
Marie Curie discovered radium and went on to lead the scientific community in studying the
theory and uses of radioactivity. She was a physicist and also a wife and mother and a
groundbreaking professional woman ahead of her time.
Marie Curie: A
by Susan Quinn / Paperback (May 1996) / Perseus Pr
A brilliant, often surprising portrait--based on new information--that is sure to be the
definitive work on one of history's greatest women. Quinn shows in this richly textured
work, a well-rounded, in-depth view of Curie as a scientist, a woman, a wife and a lover.
Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles and Momentous Discoveries
by Sharon Bertsch McGrayne / Paperback: 451 pages / Joseph Henry Press; (February 2001)
Explores the reason for the disparity in the number of male and female Nobel