marie curie

The genius of Marie Curie…

⁃ Originally named Maria Sklodowska

⁃ Grew up in Warsaw in Russian-occupied Poland

⁃ As a woman, she was barred from pursuing higher education

⁃ As an act of defiance, she enrolled in the Floating University, a secret institution that provided clandestine education to Polish youth

⁃ By saving money and working as a governess and tutor, she eventually moved to Paris to study at Sorbonne

⁃ In Sorbonne, she earned a mathematics and physics degree

⁃ In Paris, she met the physicist Pierre Curie who shared his lab and heart with her but she longed to be back in Poland

⁃ Upon her return to Warsaw, she found that securing an academic position as a woman remained a challenge

⁃ Back in Paris, Pierre was waiting and the pair quickly married became a formidable scientific team

⁃ Another physicist’s work sparked Curie’s interest — Henri Becquerel

⁃ In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium spontaneously emitted a mysterious x ray-like radiation that could interract with photographic film

⁃ Curie soon found that the element Thorium emitted similar radiation

⁃ Most importantly the strength of the radiation depended solely on the element’s quantity and was not affected by physical or chemical changes

⁃ This led her to conclude that radiation was coming from something fundamental within the atoms of each element

⁃ By focusing on pitchblende, the Curie’s realised that uranium alone couldn’t be creating all the radiation

⁃ In 1898, they reported two new elements – Polonium and Radium

⁃ They also coined the term ‘radioactivity’

⁃ By 1902, the Curies had extracted a tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride salt from several tonnes of pitchblende

⁃ Later that year, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for a Nobel Prize in Physics but Marie was overlooked

⁃ Pierre took a stand in support of his wife’s well earned recognition

⁃ Both of the Curies and Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize making Marie the first female Nobel Laureate

⁃ Tragedy stuck in 1906 when Pierre was crushed a horse-drawn cart as he crossed a busy intersection

⁃ Marie immersed herself in her research and took over Pierre’s teaching position at the Sorbonne becoming the school’s first female professor

⁃ In 1911, she won yet another Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry

⁃ This made the first and only person to this date to ever win a Nobel prize in two different sciences

⁃ Professor Curie changed the landscape of medical research and treatments

⁃ She opened mobile radiology units during WWI and investigated radiation’s effects on tumors

⁃ Curie died in 1934 of a bone marrow disease which many today think was caused by her radiation exposure

⁃ Marie Curie laid the groundwork for our understanding of physics and chemistry, blazing trails in oncology, technology, medicine, and nuclear physics just to name a few