Forgotten Female Scientist: Marie Sklodowska Curie

By: Shani Mizrahi  |  August 29, 2021

By Shani Mizrahi

Marie Curie was a brilliant French-Polish scientist who contributed greatly to the field of science, particularly to Chemistry and Physics. Marie won the Nobel Prize twice: in 1903, she won the Nobel Prize in Physics along with her partner Pierre Curie, and in 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize twice and the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris in 1906.

Marie was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. Marie had four brothers and sisters. Her father was an atheist and fought for the freedom of Poland, which made it difficult for him to keep his job. Her mother was a Catholic. When Marie was only eleven years old, both her older sister and mother died which affected her belief, leading her to become agnostic.

Marie graduated high school when she was only 15 years old, with excellent grades. She had worked as a private tutor for children in Poland, before moving to Paris at the age of 24 to study mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne. Marie’s goal was to earn a teaching certificate there, and then return to Poland. In 1893, after she completed her degree in physics, she began working in the industrial laboratory of Professor Gabriel Lipman. She also continued her postgraduate studies, which she completed in 1894.

Marie initially met a French scientist named Pierre Curie in a non-romantic way. One thing led to another, and they eventually married and brought two daughters into the world. Marie and Pierre were not only romantic partners, but worked together at the laboratory as well –  work for which they won the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, which made Marie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

Marie was also well known for investigating the radiation emanating from components that we now identify as radioactive elements, including uranium, radium and thorium. She found that the intensity of radiation from uranium can be actually measured, and that the intensity was always proportional to the amount of the element in the compound – regardless of which compound. Her second Nobel Prize, won in 1911, was given to her in recognition of her discovering and studying radium and polonium In an extraordinary move, she did not patent the process of isolating radium, thus enabling the scientific community to conduct further research without any interruption. Marie later died of a blood disease, resulting from exposure to large amounts of radiation.

Marie’s daughters kept her legacy alive. Her eldest daughter, Iran Juliot-Curie, also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry (along with her husband Friedrich Julio-Curie) in 1935. Her other daughter, Eva Curie, published a comprehensive biography of her mother in 1937. The book was a great success and was translated into many languages, including Hebrew.

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