Marie Curie: 7 facts about the pioneering scientist (2023)

This seventh of November commemorates the birth of the legendary scientistMarie Curie(born Maria Salomea Skłodowska) 152 years ago. With her husband,Pierre, the Polish-born French woman pioneered radioactivity research until her death in 1934. Today, she is known around the world not only for her groundbreaking, Nobel Prize-winning discoveries, but also for courageously breaking down many gender barriers throughout her life.

Curie was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from a French university and the first woman to be appointed as a professor at the University of Paris. She was not only the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, but also the first human (manorwoman) who has ever won the award twice, and for achievements in two different scientific fields.

While Curie's great accomplishments may be well known, here are some surprising facts about her personal and professional life that may not be.

She worked in a shack

It may come as a surprise that Curie and Pierre conducted the bulk of the research and experimentation that led to the discovery of the elements radium and polonium in what the respected German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald actually took to be "a cross between a barn and a potato scale." he stated when he was first shown the premises that it was "a practical joke". Even after the couple received the Nobel Prize for their discoveries, Pierre died without entering the new laboratory that the University of Paris had promised them.

Nonetheless, Curie fondly recalled their time together in the leaky, draughty shack, although to extract and isolate the radioactive elements, she often spent whole days stirring boiling cauldrons of uranium-rich pitchblende until she was "crushed with fatigue." . By the time she and Pierre submitted their discoveries for professional review, Curie had personally combed through several tons of uranium-bearing slag in this way.

She was initially ignored by the Nobel Prize nominating committee

In 1903 members of the French Academy of Sciences wrote a letter to the Swedish Academy nominating the joint discoveries in the field of radioactivity by Marie and Pierre Curie and their contemporary Henri Becquerel for the Nobel Prize in Physics. But in the sign of the times and the prevailing sexist attitudes, Curie's merits were not recognized, not even her name mentioned. Luckily, a benevolent member of the nominations committee, a professor of mathematics at Stockholm University College named Gösta Mittage-Leffler, wrote a letter to Pierre warning him of the blatant omission. For his part, Pierre wrote to the committee insisting that he and Curie “be considered together . . . in relation to our research on radioactive bodies.”

(Video) Marie Curie - Scientist | Mini Bio | BIO

Finally, the wording of the official nomination was changed. Later that year, thanks to a combination of her accomplishments and the combined efforts of her husband and Mittage-Leffler, Curie became the first woman in history to receive the Nobel Prize.

She refused to profit from her discoveries

After the discovery of radium in 1898, Curie and Pierre balked at the opportunity to patent it and profit from its production, even though they barely had enough money to procure the uranium slag they needed to extract the element. On the contrary, the Curies generously shared the isolated product of Marie's difficult work with other researchers and openly divulged the secrets of the process required for its manufacture to interested parties of industry.

During the "radium boom" that followed, factories sprung up in the United States focused on supplying the element not only to the scientific community but also to the curious and gullible public. Though not fully understood, the bright green material captivated consumers and found its way into everything from toothpaste to sexual enhancement products. By the 1920s, the price of a single gram of the element reached $100,000, and Curie could not afford to buy enough of what she herself had discovered to continue her research.

Still, she didn't regret it. "Radium is an element, it belongs to the people," she told American journalist Missy Maloney during a trip to the United States in 1921. "Radium was not meant to enrich anyone."

Einstein encouraged her during one of the worst years of her life

Albert Einsteinand Curie first met in Brussels in 1911 at the prestigious Solvay Conference. This invite-only event brought together the world's leading scientists in the field of physics, and Curie was the only woman among the 24 members. Einstein was so impressed with Curie that he defended her later that year when she became embroiled in controversy and the media frenzy surrounding it.

By this time France had reached the peak of the growing sexism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism that characterized the years leading up to the First World War. Curie's nomination for the French Academy of Sciences was rejected, with many suspecting prejudice against her gender and immigrant roots to be to blame. It also emerged that she was involved in a romantic relationship with her married colleague Paul Langevin, although he was estranged from his wife at the time.

(Video) How the Genius of Marie Curie Killed Her

Curie was branded a traitor and a housewrecker, and accused of riding on her late husband's coattails (Pierre had died in a road accident in 1906) rather than achieving anything on the basis of her own merits. Although she had just been awarded a second Nobel Prize, the nominating committee was now trying to stop Curie from traveling to Stockholm to accept it, to avoid a scandal. With her personal and professional life in disarray, she sank into a deep depression and withdrew from public life (as best she could).

Around this time, Curie received a letter from Einstein, describing his admiration for her and heartfelt advice on how to deal with the events as they unfolded. "I feel compelled to tell you how much I admire your intellect, your drive and your honesty," he wrote, "and that I am fortunate to have made your personal acquaintance . . .” As for the frenzy of the newspaper articles attacking them, Einstein encouraged Curie “simply not to read this hogwash, preferring to leave it to the reptile for whom it was fabricated.”

There is no doubt that the kindness shown by her respected colleague was encouraging. She soon recovered, resurfaced and, despite the discouragement, boldly went to Stockholm to accept her second Nobel Prize.

READ MORE: Albert Einstein once wrote Marie Curie a letter advising her to ignore the critics

During World War I, she personally provided medical assistance to French soldiers

IfFirst World War1914, Curie had to put her research and the opening of her new radium institute on hold because of the threatening German occupation of Paris. After personally delivering her stash of the precious element to a bank vault in Bordeaux, she set out to use her expertise in radioactivity to aid the French war effort.

Over the next four years, Curie helped outfit and operate more than twenty ambulances (known as "Little Curies") and hundreds of field hospitals with primitive X-ray machines to assist surgeons in locating and removing shrapnel from bullets from the bodies of the wounded Soldiers. She not only personally instructed and supervised young women in the use of the equipment, but even drove and operated such an ambulance herself, despite the danger of venturing too close to the fighting on the front lines.

(Video) Biography of Marie Curie for Kids: Famous Scientists for Children - FreeSchool

By the end of the war, it was estimated that Curie's X-ray machine, as well as the radon gas syringes she developed to sterilize wounds, could have saved the lives of a million soldiers. But when the French government later tried to give her the country's most prestigious award,the Legion of Honour, she declined. In another show of selflessness early in the conflict, Curie had even attempted to donate her gold Nobel Prize medals to the National Bank of France, but she refused.

Marie Curie: 7 facts about the pioneering scientist (1)

She had no idea of ​​the dangers of radioactivity

Today, more than 100 years after the Curies discovered radium, even the general public is aware of the potential dangers of exposing the human body to radioactive elements. However, from the very early years when scientists and their contemporaries pioneered the study of radioactivity until the mid-1940s, little was concretely understood about short- and long-term health effects.

(Video) WONDERFUL WOMEN: Who was Marie Curie? Learn more about the PIONEERING Scientist & NURSE from POLAND

Pierre was happy to keep a sample in his pocket so he could demonstrate its glowing and warming properties to the curious, and even once strapped a vial of the stuff to his bare arm for ten hours to study how oddly it painlessly burned his skin. Curie, in turn, kept a sample at home next to her bed as a night light. Hardworking researchers, the Curies spent almost every day within the confines of their makeshift laboratory, with various radioactive materials scattered about their work areas. After regularly handling radium samples, both are said to have developed restless hands and cracked and scarred fingers.

Although Pierre's life was tragically ended in 1906, he was suffering from constant pain and fatigue at the time of his death. Curie also complained of similar symptoms until he succumbed to advanced leukemia in 1934. Neither at any time considered the possibility that their discovery was the cause of their pain and Curie's eventual death. In fact, all of the couple's lab notes and many of their personal belongings remain so radioactive today that they cannot be safely viewed or studied.

Her daughter also received the Nobel Prize

When it comes to Marie and Pierre Curie's eldest daughter, Irène, it's safe to say that the apple didn't fall far from the tree. Irène followed in the big footsteps of her parents and enrolled at the Faculty of Science in Paris. However, the outbreak of World War I interrupted her studies. She joined her mother and began working as an X-ray technician, operating X-ray machines to help treat soldiers who were wounded on the battlefield.

By 1925, Irène had obtained her PhD after joining her mother in the field of radioactivity research. Ten years later, she and her husband Frédéric Joliot shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for their breakthroughs in the synthesis of new radioactive elements. Although it had been a pleasure for Curie to see her daughter and son-in-law's research succeed, she did not live to see them win the award.

The legacy of the Curie family is both poignant and suitably accomplished. Irène and Frédéric Joliot had two children of their own, named Helene and Pierre, in honor of their incredible grandparents, whose deaths were tragically early. Curie's grandsons would both also excel in the field of science. Helene became a nuclear physicist and, at 88, is still on the advisory board of the French government. Pierre would later become a distinguished biologist.


What 3 things did Marie Curie discover? ›

Indefatigable despite a career of physically demanding and ultimately fatal work, she discovered polonium and radium, championed the use of radiation in medicine and fundamentally changed our understanding of radioactivity.

What were Marie Curie's last words? ›

“Radium,” she said. “Radium?” “Those were her last words— 'Was it done with radium or with mesothorium?

What did Marie Curie conduct pioneering research on? ›

Curie's pioneering work on the theory of radioactivity and subsequent discovery of radium won her many accolades, but the financial cost of continuing her research on an element that had quickly become popular for its therapeutic properties was a formidable obstacle.

What did Marie Curie best known for? ›

Radium and polonium

The Curies shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Becquerel. And Skłodowska-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for the discovery of radium and polonium and the isolation of radium, which provided science with a method for isolating and purifying radioactive isotopes.

How many lives did Marie Curie save? ›

Although, quite ironically, she helped save a million lives (directly) by using radiation, which has developed drastically in recent times to have saved millions more!

How has Marie Curie changed the world? ›

Marie Curie is remembered for her discovery of radium and polonium, and her huge contribution to finding treatments for cancer.

What did Marie Curie discover first? ›

Work. After Marie and Pierre Curie first discovered the radioactive elements polonium and radium, Marie continued to investigate their properties. In 1910 she successfully produced radium as a pure metal, which proved the new element's existence beyond a doubt.

What 5 languages did Marie Curie speak? ›

A Remarkable Woman. Born in Warsaw, in the Russian par on of Poland, on No-vember 7, 1867 to a school principal mother and teacher fa-ther, Maria Skłodowska was one of 5 children. She was an excellent student who loved physics, chemistry, math, biol-ogy and music. She spoke Polish, Russian, French and Eng-lish.

How did Marie Curie save lives? ›

When World War I broke out in Europe that year, Curie saw a way to apply her expertise to help save the lives of wounded soldiers. She realized that the electromagnetic radiation of X-rays could help doctors see the bullets and shrapnel embedded in the soldiers' bodies and remove them, as well as locate broken bones.

Did Marie Curie have a pet? ›

Physicist Albert Einstein (1879-1955) had cat, dog and parrot and Marie Curie (1867-1934) had a pet tiger.

Why did Marie Curie start her research? ›

The discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Roentgen and Henri Becquerel's discovery of radioactivity in 1896 inspired Marie to chose this new field as the subject of her thesis and her further research. She later persuaded her husband to join her in this field.

When did Marie Curie start her research? ›

In 1896, intrigued by the physicist Henri Becquerel's accidental discovery of radioactivity, Curie began studying uranium rays; Pierre soon joined her in her research. Two years later, the Curies discovered polonium—named after Marie's homeland—and radium.

Who was the pioneer in the study of radiation? ›

Marie Curie, a French physicist famous for her research on radioactivity, was born on this day in 1867.

What are some facts for kids about Marie Curie? ›

Marie Curie was a Polish-French scientist who won two Nobel prizes. Her work focused on radioactivity, which is a property of some chemical elements. (Radioactive elements give off unending rays of energy.) Curie helped to discover two radioactive elements, polonium and radium.

What important events was Marie Curie in? ›

July‑December 1898Marie Curie, along with her husband, discover new elements “polonium” and “radium”
June 1903Curie receives her doctorate from the University of Paris December, 1903 Curie and her husband are awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics.
April 19, 1906Curie's husband is killed in a road accident.
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Dec 6, 2022

What was Marie Curie's favorite food? ›

While earning her degree in Paris, Curie lived frugally and ate mostly buttered bread and tea—a diet that often caused her to faint from hunger. 3.

What is Marie Curie's favorite color? ›

Red and white, the colour of her native Poland flag.

Who inspired Marie Curie? ›

The discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel in 1896 inspired the Curies in their brilliant researches and analyses which led to the isolation of polonium, named after the country of Marie's birth, and radium.

What did Marie Curie discover for kids? ›

Marie Curie discovered radioactivity and changed the way scientists understood the atom. She was born in Warsaw, Poland, on 7th November 1867. She was born Maria Salomea Sklodowska, but adopted her French husband's name, Curie, around the time she married him. She also became a French citizen when she married him.

What tools did Marie Curie use? ›

The apparatus used by the Curies for their experiments included an ionization chamber, a quadrant electrometer, and a piezoelectric quartz. The unique feature of the method established by Marie and Pierre Curie was the introduction of the piezoelectric quartz as a measurement standard.

How did Marie Curie help to save lives in the First World War? ›

When WWI broke out in 1914, Marie immediately saw the potential of X-rays to save lives on the battlefield.

How did Marie Curie use the scientific method? ›

Making repeated separations of the various substances in the pitchblende, Marie and Pierre used the Curie electrometer to identify the most radioactive fractions. They thus discovered that two fractions, one containing mostly bismuth and the other containing mostly barium, were strongly radioactive.

What do Marie Curie do? ›

Marie Curie Nurses care for people with all terminal illnesses, including terminal cancer, towards the end of their lives. They generally spend several hours at a time in your home providing care and support, usually overnight.

How many elements did Marie Curie discover? ›

Marie Curie

What did Curie discover and when? ›

And Marie was proven right: in 1898 the Curies discovered two new radioactive elements: radium (named after the Latin word for ray) and polonium (named after Marie's home country, Poland).

What did Marie Curie teach? ›

She succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, gained her Doctor of Science degree in 1903, and following the tragic death of Pierre Curie in 1906, she took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the first time a woman had held this position.

Was Marie Curie smart as a child? ›

Growing up the child of two teachers, Marie was taught to read and write early. She was a very bright child and did well in school. She had a sharp memory and worked hard on her studies.

What did Marie Curie do in her free time? ›

For roughly five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. She used her spare time to study, reading about physics, chemistry and math. In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne.

Who was the woman who found radiation? ›

Marie Sklodowska Curie, the discoverer of radium and winner of two Nobel Prizes, is without question the most famous woman in radiation science. She faced obstacles and prejudice, and achieved breakthroughs that changed the world. Her dramatic life has been portrayed in movies and television shows.

How do I go on after my dog dies? ›

Here are a few suggestions to help you cope:
  1. Acknowledge your grief and give yourself permission to express it.
  2. Don't hesitate to reach out to others who can lend a sympathetic ear. ...
  3. Write about your feelings, either in a journal or a poem, essay, or short story.

Can you have a tiger for a pet? ›

Tigers are not domesticated cats. None of the six surviving species of tiger (another three are extinct) should be kept as pets. A majority of states in the U.S. have instituted bans on keeping any of the big cat species as pets.

How was Marie Curie a critical thinker? ›

Analytical: She was highly analytical and critical in her thinking. She researched, investigated, and studied deeply by investing her time in the laboratory. She worked whole day and night by experimenting on “pitchblende” to discover the unknown elements, which she named as radium and polonium.

Who gave radiation its name? ›

Pierre (1859-1906) and Marie (1867-1934) Curie

Though it was Henri Becquerel that discovered radioactivity, it was Marie Curie who coined the term.

Who discovered radiation and died? ›

In 1906 Pierre Curie died in a Paris street accident. Marie won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium, using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes.
Marie Curie
CitizenshipPoland (by birth) France (by marriage)
Alma materUniversity of Paris ESPCI
20 more rows

Who named radiation? ›

The term radioactivity was actually coined by Marie Curie, who together with her husband Pierre, began investigating the phenomenon recently discovered by Becquerel.

What is Marie Curie's favorite food? ›

While earning her degree in Paris, Curie lived frugally and ate mostly buttered bread and tea—a diet that often caused her to faint from hunger. 3.

How is Marie Curie a genius? ›

Curie carried out groundbreaking research, providing the first detailed description of radioactivity and using its detection to discover two new elements: polonium and radium. She was awarded Nobel prizes in physics (1903) and in chemistry (1911).

How many lives has Marie Curie saved? ›

Although, quite ironically, she helped save a million lives (directly) by using radiation, which has developed drastically in recent times to have saved millions more!

What did Marie Curie wear? ›

She already had her white hair, but she was beautiful, she dressed well, often with big black dresses, she wore hats, and when she worked, she wore black coats too.

What is a famous Marie Curie quote? ›

Marie Curie quotes

We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained." "Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood." "I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries."

What did Marie Curie discover kids? ›

In 1895, she married Pierre Curie. Together they discovered two new elements, or the smallest pieces of chemical substances: polonium (which she named after her home country) and radium.


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