Marie Curie

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Marie Skłodowska Curie was born in Warsaw modern-day Poland, on November 7, 1867. As a child Curie, she had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,”. 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 where she enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris.

Curie completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year. Around this time, she received a commission to do a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties. Curie needed a lab to work in, and a colleague introduced her to French physicist Pierre Curie. Marie and Pierre Curie were dedicated scientists and completely devoted to one another. On July 26, 1895 they got married.

She was fascinated with the work of Henri Becquerel and took his work a few steps further, conducting her own experiments on uranium rays. She discovered that the rays remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium. The rays, she theorized, came from the element’s atomic structure. This revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics and Curie herself coined the word radioactivity to describe the phenomena. Marie and Pierre had a daughter, Irene, in 1897. Working with the mineral pitchblende, the pair discovered a new radioactive element in 1898 which they named polonium. In 1902, the Curies produced radium, demonstrating its existence as a unique chemical element.

Marie Curie made history in 1903 when she became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in physics. She won the prestigious honor along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, for their work on radioactivity. They were blessed with a second child, daughter Eve, the following year. In 1906, Pierre was killed in an accident. She took over his teaching post at the Sorbonne, becoming the institution’s first female professor.

Curie received another great honor in 1911, winning her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry. She was selected for her discovery of radium and polonium, and became the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes. She died on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, which can be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation.

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