Marie Curie – A Short Biography

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Marie Sklodowska, later called Marie Curie, was born in Warsaw, Poland, on November 7th 1867.

Marie was clever, and wanted to study science from an early age. Even though she was a top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the male-only University of Warsaw, as women were not permitted. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” which were informal classes held in secret.

Marie Curie started out as a teacher, but she loved studying science and was hoping to save enough money to go to university.

When she was 24, she and her sister had saved enough money to move to Paris, which allowed her to enroll in Sorbonne University.

She began studying mathematics and physics. In 1895 after she graduated from Sorbonne University, she married Pierre Curie, a professor in the Sorbonne physics department. In 1897 Marie and Pierre had their first daughter Irene. The couple also had a second daughter, Eve, in 1904.

Marie and Pierre Curie started working on their scientific research together in the School of Chemistry and Physics in Paris.

They studied invisible rays that could come from the element uranium, and saw that the rays could pass through solid materials.

Later, Marie Curie named the invisible rays “radioactivity.”

Marie and Pierre suspected there might be another element other than uranium that had even stronger radioactivity, so they decided to keep looking for it.

Eventually Marie and Pierre Curie discovered a brand new element that had never been found before. She called it Polonium, named after her home country Poland.

Then, the discovery of Polonium helped them also find a second previously undiscovered element, which they called Radium.

The discovery of both of these new elements earned Marie and Pierre Curie the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics.

This Nobel Prize was a big deal because Marie Curie had just become the very first female Nobel Prize winner. Also in that same year, Marie Curie officially earned her Doctorate in physics.

In 1906 Pierre was killed in Paris after accidentally stepping in front of a horse-drawn carriage. Marie took over his teaching post at the Sorbonne, and at 39 became the institution’s first female professor

At 44, she earned her second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in chemistry, making her the first and only woman to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields.

Marie and Pierre Curie’s scientific work advanced modern science and medicine, leading to x-rays becoming available for use in diagnosing and treating many medical problems.

When World War I broke out in 1914, Curie devoted her time and resources to help the cause. She championed the use of portable X-ray machines in the field, and these medical vehicles were nicknamed “Little Curies.” 

After the war, Curie used her fame to advance her research. She traveled to the United States twice, in 1921 and 1929, to raise funds to buy radium and establish a radium research institute in Warsaw.

She became so famous for her amazing work that she was invited to go on tours around the world to talk about her scientific discoveries.

Curie died on July 4, 1934, which many believe to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. Her many years working with radioactive materials took a toll on her health. She is buried in the Pantheon, a mausoleum in Paris reserved for highly respected citizens. Marie became the first, and one of only five women, to be laid to rest there.