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Marie Curie
Marie Curie c1920.jpg
Curie in 1920
Maria Salomea Skłodowska

(1867-11-07)November 7, 1867
Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Died July 4, 1934(1934-07-04) (aged 66)
Passy, Haute-Savoie, France
Cause of death Aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation
  • Poland (by birth)
  • France (by marriage)
Alma mater
  • University of Paris
Known for
(m. 1895; died 1906)
Scientific career
Fields Physics, chemistry
Thesis Research on Radioactive Substances
Doctoral advisor Gabriel Lippmann
Doctoral students
Marie Curie Skłodowska Signature Polish.svg

Marie Curie (November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934) was a Polish physicist, chemist, and feminist. She researched radioactivity. She was the first woman professor at the University of Paris. She was also the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. One of her Nobel Prizes was in physics in 1903 and the other was in chemistry in 1911. Her Nobel Prize in physics was for her research on uncontrolled radiation, which was discovered by Henri Becquerel.

She died because of too much exposure to radiation in her laboratory. She had no protection against the effects of radiation.

Early life

Marie Sklodowska 16 years old
Marie Sklodowska, 16 years old

Marie Sklodowska Curie, originally Maria, was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She lived there until she was 22. Marie Curie was the fifth child in her family. Marie, whose parents were both teachers, was quite intelligent. She did, however, have a difficult childhood. Her older sister, Zofia, died of typhus in 1876 and her mother died two years later when Marie was ten.

As a young girl, Marie was interested in physics. She graduated at fifteen at the top of her high school class. Marie became a teacher so she could earn money to go to school in Paris, France. She also went to an unaccredited college in Poland. Eventually, she left Poland and went to France, living with her sister and brother-in-law, under the name “Marie." In Paris, she earned higher degrees and did important scientific work. Later, she founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw.

Personal life

Marie Pierre Irene Curie
Pierre, Irène, Marie Curie

Even though Curie became a French citizen, she never lost her Polish identity. She graduated first in her class at the Univeristy of Paris in 1893. One year later, she earned a master's degree in mathematics. Later, she met her husband, Pierre Curie, at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry. One year later, they were married. They also started to work together on scientific discoveries. Marie and Pierre had their first daughter, Irene, in 1897. Their second daughter, Eve, was born in 1904. Pierre died on April 19, 1906, after he was hit by a horse-drawn wagon.

Physicist career

Marie and her husband created a theory of radioactivity (a term made by her and her husband). They found different ways to separate radioactive isotopes and discovered two new elements: polonium and radium. The term polonium was named after Poland, her home country.

Pierre and Marie Curie
Pierre and Marie Curie in the laboratory

In 1898, the Curies and Gustave Bemont discovered radium, one of the most radioactive and dangerous metals, when using a uranium ore. The ore gave off a lot of radiation, and the group decided that it was coming from more than uranium. Then, they found radium in the uranium.

Curie used her studies in radioactivity to develop a new treatment for cancer. These treatments used radioactive isotopes. Doctors today still use radiation therapy to treat certain cancers. During World War I, Curie used her research to develop portable x-ray machines, called "Petite Curies", to help soldiers on the battlefield.

Nobel Prizes

Marie Curie 1903
1903 Nobel Prize portrait
Nobel Pierre et Marie Curie 1
1903 Nobel Prize diploma
Mme P Curie P1300452 corrected2
Marie Curie's business card as professor at the Faculty of Sciences

In December 1903 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." At first the committee had intended to honour only Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, but a committee member and advocate for women scientists, Swedish mathematician Magnus Gösta Mittag-Leffler, alerted Pierre to the situation, and after his complaint, Marie's name was added to the nomination. Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.

Curie and her husband declined to go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person; they were too busy with their work, and Pierre Curie, who disliked public ceremonies, was feeling increasingly ill. As Nobel laureates were required to deliver a lecture, the Curies finally undertook the trip in 1905. The award money allowed the Curies to hire their first laboratory assistant.

Following the award of the Nobel Prize, the University of Paris gave Pierre Curie a professorship and the chair of physics, although the Curies still did not have a proper laboratory. Upon Pierre Curie's complaint, the University of Paris agreed to furnish a new laboratory, but it would not be ready until 1906.

Fund raising

After World War I, Marie started to raise money for radiation research. She was invited to tour the United States to recommend and speed up her project of studying radiation. She sailed for the United States in 1921. She collected enough money and equipment for a new laboratory. Marie then started speaking at meetings to raise more money and became a celebrity. She also supported world peace by serving on the council of the League of Nations.


Panthéon Pierre et Marie Curie
Tomb of Pierre and Marie Curie, Panthéon, Paris

Near the 1920s, Curie and many of her colleagues began to suffer from symptoms of cancer. Curie began to lose her sight, and cataract surgeries did not help. Curie knew that the element (radium) she discovered might have been causing the symptoms, but she did not want to admit it to herself or others.

In the early 1930s, Curie’s health started to get worse quickly. Doctors diagnosed her with pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is a blood anemia that happens when someone is exposed to too much radiation. The doctors didn’t tell the public or Curie herself what was going on.

On July 4, 1934, at 66 years old, she died in a sanatorium, a medical facility for long-term illness, in the French Alps. She was then buried next to her husband in Sceaux, France.

Marie Curie was known for her honesty and moderate lifestyle. Her contributions to science have changed the world as we know it today. She is still one of only four people (along with Linus Pauling, John Bardeen, and Frederick Sanger) to earn two Nobel Prizes.

Marie Curie quotes

  • "Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas."
  • "You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement."
  • “Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
  • “I am among those who think that science has great beauty.”
  • “You must never be fearful of what you are doing when it is right.”
  • “Radium is not to enrich any one. It is an element; it is for all people.”
  • “First principle: never to let one’s self be beaten down by persons or by events.”

Interesting Facts about Marie Curie

  • Marie attended Flying University, a college that (illegally) welcomed female students and had to change locations several times to "hide" from authorities.
  • She was the first woman in Paris to earn her doctorate degree.
  • Much of her lab work was done in her shed. A chemist named Wilhelm Ostwald described it as "a cross between a stable and a potato shed."
  • Five people in Marie's family accepted a Nobel Prize.
  • Marie's notebooks are now stored in lead-lined boxes because they are still radioactive.
  • Marie invented portable x-ray machines to help soldiers during World War I. The machines were called "petite Curies" (little Curies).

Commemoration and cultural depictions

CERN, Marie Curie, Ginebra, Suiza, 2015 19
Bust of "Maria Skłodowska-Curie", CERN Museum, Switzerland, 2015

As one of the most famous scientists in history, Marie Curie has become an icon in the scientific world and has received tributes from across the globe, even in the realm of pop culture. She also received many honorary degrees from universities across the world.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences. Awards that she received include:

Entities that have been named after Marie Curie include:

  • The curie (symbol Ci), a unit of radioactivity, is named in honour of her and Pierre Curie (although the commission which agreed on the name never clearly stated whether the standard was named after Pierre, Marie, or both).
  • The element with atomic number 96 was named curium (symbol Cm).
  • Three radioactive minerals are also named after the Curies: curite, sklodowskite, and cuprosklodowskite.
  • The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowship program of the European Union for young scientists wishing to work in a foreign country is named after her.
  • In 2007, a metro station in Paris was renamed to honour both of the Curies.
  • The sole Polish nuclear reactor in operation, the research reactor Maria, is named after her.
  • The 7000 Curie asteroid is named after her.
  • The Marie Curie Medal, an annual science award established in 1996 and conferred by the Polish Chemical Society, was named after her.
  • The Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize, an annual award conferred by the London-based Institute of Physics for distinguished contributions to physics education, was named in her honor.

Numerous biographies are devoted to her, including:

  • Ève Curie (Marie Curie's daughter), Madame Curie, 1938.
  • Françoise Giroud, Marie Curie: A Life, 1987.
  • Barbara Goldsmith, Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, 2005.
  • Lauren Redniss, Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout, 2011, adapted into the 2019 British film.

Marie Curie has been the subject of a number of films:

  • 1943: Madame Curie, a U.S. Oscar-nominated film by Mervyn LeRoy starring Greer Garson.
  • 1997: Les Palmes de M. Schutz, a French film adapted from a play of the same title, and directed by Claude Pinoteau. Marie Curie is played by Isabelle Huppert.
  • 2014: Marie Curie, une femme sur le front, a French-Belgian film, directed by Alain Brunard [fr] and starring Dominique Reymond.
  • 2016: Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge, a European co-production by Marie Noëlle starring Karolina Gruszka.
  • 2016: Super Science Friends, an american internet animated series created by Brett Jubinville featuring Hedy Gregor as Marie Curie.
  • 2019: Radioactive, a British film by Marjane Satrapi starring Rosamund Pike.

Curie is the subject of the 2013 play, False Assumptions, by Lawrence Aronovitch, in which the ghosts of three other women scientists observe events in her life. Curie has also been portrayed by Susan Marie Frontczak in her play, Manya: The Living History of Marie Curie, a one-woman show which by 2014 had been performed in 30 U.S. states and nine countries.

Related Pages

Curie family

Images for kids

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Marie Curie para niños

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