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).



References:
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.

Pierre Curie, born on 15 May 1859 in Paris, France, and was educated with his brother at home by his parents. He then studied physics at the Sorbonne. Pierre discovered that exerting pressure on quartz crystals could produce an electric current. Curies Law is named after his later discovery about the relationship between magnetism and temperature.

Marie Curie, born Manya Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland on 7 November 1867. French physicist and twice Nobel Prize winner. She was best known for her work on radioactivity with her husband Pierre.

Marie’s father was an ardent Polish nationalist who taught mathematics and physics at a secondary school. She had a sister; Bronia. During her schooling she won a gold medal of excellence and graduated from high school at the age of 15. Because of a poor family she went to work as a Governess at 17. In 1891 Marie travelled to Paris with her sister and registered at Sorbonne, in the University of Paris to study Maths and Physics, earning degrees in both. Her name was then changed to Marie. Within two years she completed the masters exam in physics and scored the highest in the class.

Three years after Marie arrived in Paris, she met Pierre the physicist, her husband to be. Within a year they married and moved into an apartment near where they shared a laboratory. After the discovery of X-rays and the emission of novel radiations from Uranium they concentrated on whether there were any other elements that produced these rays.

Her first daughter, Irene, was born in 1897. By 1898 using a device invented by Pierre, she discovered that Pitchblende – an ore containing uranium – was far more radioactive than the uranium inside it was.

Over the next few years Marie and Pierre made several important discoveries. They were first to prove that the atoms of some elements are continually breaking down and give off radiations that pass through many other materials. The Curies called these radioactive. The next discovery was the hidden elements in Pitchblende - Polonium and Radium, a glowing element which they finally isolated in 1902. In 1903 the Curies were jointly awarded with Antoine Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of radioactive elements.

Pierre was killed in 1906 in a road accident. Marie then took over his job and became the first female to teach at Sorbonne. She continued her work and introduced the terms “disintegration” and “transmutation” into physics. 1911 came and she won the Nobel Prize for chemistry and was the first person to win two prizes in science.

During world war one Madam Curie had an active role in the use of radiation for medical purposes. She used her fame to promote the medical uses of radium by helping the foundation of radium therapy institutes.

While working on the isolation of a new element her health deteriorated. She had several cataract operations. As a consequence of Marie's exposure to massive doses of radiation for a long period of time, she died of aplastic anaemia in an alpine sanatorium.

Even her cookbook is still highly radioactive. Kept in lead-lined boxes along with her papers from the 1890's, in order to access them, one must wear protective clothing and sign a waiver. And somehow get to Paris, France. Drawn to biographies as a young girl, my favorite was the life and work of Marie Curie.

Despite the saying that opposites attract, her marriage to a man who shared her passions, ironically, in the field of magnetism, then later chemistry and physics, lead to her major distinguishing achievement and contribution to the world. She persisted in getting a foothold in the male-dominated science world, while doing research in a shed. This may or may not be a true fact, the shed.

Isolating isotopes, not realizing the long lasting and far reaching effects her obsession would lead to in the field of future medicine. Tubes of glowing radioactive chemicals in her pockets, at night,..."looked like faint, fairy lights," oblivious that her quest would one day bring her fame as the first and only woman to be awarded Nobel prizes in two different sciences, physics and chemistry, nor that her curiosity would ultimately cause her death.

I picture plants growing greener and flowers larger and more prolific, vines in and out of her work shed, fed by the radiation that would one day drain her very life. Like the areas near the fringes of current day Chernobyl, where the farmers' fruits and vegetables are larger, look more appealing, unless you are warned about the soil they were grown in and the lingering effects of radiation.

Marie had attended The Flying University (also called The Floating University), which was established to provide Polish male and female students higher education at a time when instability in the government prohibited or censored certain teaching. "It was one of those groups of Polish youths who believed that the hope of their country lay in a great effort to develop the intellectual and moral strength of the nation...we agreed among ourselves to give evening courses, each one teaching what he knew best."

Coming from a family of teachers, it was commendable that she chose a difficult road. Or perhaps the road beckoned to her, the road to preserve her native language, the road to explore that which was not known, not familiar. Marie Curie managed to be both wife and mother, scientist and researcher in a time and in a place where a safer path could have been taken.

What fascinated her about radioactivity? What drove her to instill this passion for science in her own daughter? This was the late 1890's, early 1900's...a time of fashion and art changes in France, where she had become a citizen. She could have let her husband, Pierre, take all the credit while she went shopping for dresses of the day, or spend afternoons sipping champagne in gilded restaurants, yet she did not. They worked together, he setting aside his studies because he knew his wife was onto something important, using an instrument he and his brother invented years earlier. Pierre and Marie shared the excitement and drudgery of experiment after experiment. They shared knowledge and life and death. The specific details of her work can be found elsewhere.

The facts I chose to focus on were minimal yet monumental in the sense that teachers, family and passion play a significant role in one person's life, which in turn can influence millions of lives. Or billions. But that is just my viewpoint on how science collided with me.

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