Nov. 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934
A Pioneer of Scienceby Rit Nosotro First Published:: 2003
Who is Marie Curie? Poorly educated, underprivileged, and female, this woman was determined to get an education and succeed in her studies. Overcoming numerous obstacles and criticisms, Marie Curie became a pioneer in the field of science, greatly contributing to the worlds of both Physics and Chemistry as we now know them.
Born to Bronsilawa Boguska and Wladyslaw Sklodowski on November 7th, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland, Marya (or Maria) Sklodowska showed great promise in academics from a young age. However, lack of family finances caused Marya to become a local schoolteacher before the age of 18, merely pursuing a general education. Much of her earnings went toward the schooling of her sister, Bronia, who was studying medicine in Paris; however, Marya hoped that one day she would be able to attend school as well, hopefully with her sister returning the monetary favors. Marya was interested in sciences as well as mathematics; this was largely due to the fact that her father, Wladyslaw, taught both physics and mathematics and peaked her interest in both. Originally raised as a Catholic, she left the church before she turned 20, and after she married, neither she nor her husband practiced any religion.
Marya moved to Paris in 1891 to continue her education in the area of physics and other sciences. Self-taught and tenacious, she easily earned her degree in Physics and went on to receive another degree in Mathematical Sciences. It was in the spring of 1894 that she was introduced to Pierre Curie by a Polish friend of hers. On July 25th of the following year, Marya and Pierre were married and Marya adopted the better known name of Marie Curie. Pierre now joined Marie on her quest for knowledge, working beside her in many experiments and tests.
Marie’s scientific studies began with the research of a phenomenon for which she later coined the word “radioactivity”. Marie worked jointly with Pierre and Henri Becquerel, a French scientist, and in 1903 they shared the Nobel Prize in Physics due to their work with radioactive material and the discovering of its properties. Today radioactivity is used in cancer treatments, molecular biology, modern genetics, as well as the dating of artifacts.
Marie also discovered polonium, which was named after her native land of Poland, and radium in 1898, chemicals which she devoted the rest of her life to studying. Marie discovered how to isolate these elements so that they might be used for useful causes, such as cancer therapy. In addition, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for discovering the method used to isolate pure radium. Marie also developed a process called Curietherapy with the help of Pierre, a process that was used to treat malignant tumors at the time.
In 1906 Pierre Curie was killed when he was run over by a car. His body, weakened by the effects of overexposure to radiation, simply could not fight to stay alive. Marie Curie then took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences in Paris.
When World War I broke out, Marie Curie thought it wise to have plenty of X-ray machines on hand to help the doctors better locate bullets and shrapnel in the injured soldiers. Undaunted by the fact that there was previously no easy way to accomplish this task, Marie created special X-ray vans. Another problem arose when sufficient operators could not be found; so Marie Curie trained 150 women to do the job.
Marie Curie died on July 4th, 1934, from leukemia, brought on from massive overexposure to radioactive elements. Almost blind with her fingers burnt and worn from radium, Marie Curie died from exhaustion and complications which stemmed from her life work.
Marie’s life was riddled with “firsts”. She was the first one to use the term “radioactivity”. She was the first woman in all of Europe to receive her Doctorate of Science. At Sorbonne University in Paris, Marie Curie was the first woman lecturer, professor, and Head of laboratory. She was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics and the first person, man or woman, to win two Nobel Prizes. She was the first woman with a Nobel Prize to have a daughter also receive a Nobel Prize; her daughter, Irene, won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. She was also the first and only woman to be laid to rest in the pantheon specifically for her own discoveries. Throughout her life, Marie Curie also earned 15 gold medals, 19 degrees, and various other honors.
The contributions that Marie Curie made to science are immense. With her help, doctors have been able to treat cancer, manipulate nuclear energy, create atomic bombs, and numerous other achievements have stemmed from her work. Giving of her time, energy and, ultimately, her life, Marie Curie’s work continues through scientists around the world as they build upon her foundation to discover more in the areas of science and mathematics.
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