Born as Marya Sklodowska on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland, during the Russian occupation. Both of her parents were teachers, and they didn't make much money, but were very supportive of Marya receiving a good education. She eventually got a job as a tutor, and helped pay her sister Bronia's way through medical school in Paris. In 1891 Marie saved enough to travel to Paris herself, where she studied physics. After achieving that degree, she went on to get a second one in mathematics. Around this time she met Pierre Curie, who in 1895 reduced her last name by 5 letters, all of them consonants.
In 1879 she decided to go for a physics doctorate. In doing so she came across the work of Henri Becquerel, who had found that uranium salt left an impression on a photographic plate even when it was inside its protective envelope. Marie and Pierre were able to show that this was not a result of a chemical process, but a mysterious and intrinsic property of the element. She created the word Radioactive to describe this phenomenon, and found some other radioactive substances, such as thorium, polonium and radium.
The Curies were poor, but didn't file for patents on their work, even knowing that this would probably have solved all of their their money problems; they worked for idealistic principles, not profit, believing that science is for everyone.
They won a Nobel prize in 1903 for discovering natural radioactivity in radium and polonium. ("in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.") This discovery was also good enough to get her that doctorate she had been working for.
Three years later, in 1906, Pierre was hit by a horse-drawn wagon, and died. Marie was left with two children (Irene Curie (9) and Eve Curie (2)). She took over her husband's teaching position at Sorbonne university, becoming the first woman to be a professor at that school. She also home schooled her kids.
In 1911 she won another Nobel prize for her work with radium, including determining its atomic weight. ("in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.") This Nobel prize was despite the fact that she was a woman (bad), and was having an affair with a married man (very bad).
She helped found the Radium Institute, and became its first director -- But in 1914 WWI broke out, and Marie went out into the field to operate a fleet of radiological ambulances so that the wounded could have the benefit of X-rays. The Allies won the war, so she went back to her institute, where she and Claudius Regaud worked on treating cancer with radioactive materials (unfortunately, these materials had recently become much more expensive). In 1921 Marie took a trip to America, where President Warren G. Harding gave her a gift of a gram of radium. (This was a big deal. Radium isn't easy to come by).
On July 6 1934, she died of plastic anemia, probably the result of long exposure to ionizing radiation. Her ashes, along with those of her husband, now lie under the dome of the Panthéon, in Paris.
Her daughter Irène continued her work, and she and her husband Frédéric Joliot would win a Nobel prize for their work in discovering artificial radioactivity. (At the time of the Nobel Prize, she was Irène Joliot-Curie).
http://inst.augie.edu/~jkbjerga/histochem2.html is great, despite the typos.
http://www.france.diplomatie.fr/label_france/ENGLISH/SCIENCES/CURIE/marie.html Is very informative.
http://www.iomp.org/newsletter/v15n1/p9.html is really good.
World book (1985) was little use.