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Marie Curie, Scientific Pioneer and Inspiration

By- Angela Padrón

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. At an early age, she was fascinated with chemistry and became a top student in her secondary school. Marie was not permitted to attend the University of Warsaw, however, as it was a male-only institution. For several years, Marie worked as a tutor and governess to save money to attend school elsewhere, all the while continuing to read and study about physics, chemistry, and math.

In 1891, Marie found a way to get to Paris, France to study physics and mathematical sciences at the Sorbonne. There, she met her future husband Pierre Curie, a professor in the School of Physics. In 1897, she had her first child Irene, who later would follow in her mother’s footsteps and win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Soon Marie became head of the physics laboratory and in 1003, she earned a Doctor of Science degree, making her the first woman in Europe to receive a PhD in research science. In 1904, she had her second daughter, Eve.

Much of Marie’s work was completed at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris, France. She also worked at the Sorbonne and University of Paris. Marie and her husband conducted much research together. Through their work with the mineral pitchblende, they discovered two radioactive elements, one that they called “polonium” after Marie’s home country of Poland. The other was radium. For their discoveries, the Curies shared the 1903 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel. Marie was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. The Curies also received the Davy Medal of the Royal Society the same year. When Pierre was tragically killed in a horse-drawn wagon accident in 1906, Marie took over her husband’s position as the Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences. She was the first woman to hold such a position.

In 1911, Marie was awarded another Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry for her work in radioactivity. This made her the first woman to receive this honor in two separate fields. In addition, she received many honorary degrees in science, medicine, and law. In 1914, the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute at the University of Paris was founded. Marie became the director of the lab. Seven years later, Marie was recognized by U.S. President Harding for her service to the study of science.

Marie Curie passed away on July 4, 1934, but her legacy lives on. The element curium, which is a radioactive solid metal, was named after Marie and her husband Pierre in honor of their significant contributions to the study of radioactivity. Marie Curie is most famous for finding ways to use radium’s therapeutic properties to make advances in the science and medical fields. Her work also led to the development of many medical practices, including X-rays. In fact, Marie helped greatly during World War I by suggesting methods of using radium to subdue the pain and suffering of soldiers. Portable X-ray machines were used to detect injuries, and these machines became known as “Little Curies.” Thanks to Marie Curie’s work, not only were many scientific advances made possible—but also many advances for women were as well. Marie paved the way for many women to enter the field of science and is often referred to as “The Mother of Modern Physics.”

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