Brief biography of Marie Curie, first world-famous female scientist, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in different science fields, physics and chemistry.
Marie Curie is regarded the greatest woman in science. She is famous for radioactivity, discovered two chemical elements polonium and radium, and received two Nobel Prize awards, 1903 and 1911. Beyond her tangible achievements is her power of devotion and perseverance.
Early Life of Marie Curie
The daughter of teachers from a class of Polish landowners, Marie Curie (formerly Marya Sklodowska), was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867. Her father, Wladislaw Sklodowski, had studied at the University of St Petersburg and was a teacher in physics, and her mother, Bronislawa, conducted a private school. Things were not meant to be rosy, Poland was under Russian oppression that time. To aggravate the situation, her unfortunate father invested in a wrong business. From then on the family lived in a state of financial difficulty.
But Marie never let her dream die of having an advanced education. To pay for her college tuition, she became a governess and tutor for 8 years, and helped for the medical school tuition of her sister Bronya, who became a medical doctor in 1891.
Science Student at the Sorbonne University
After earning her needed money to attend college, at 24, Marie enrolled at the Sorbonne University in Paris, graduating first in both physics and mathematics, in 1893. A year later she also attained a master’s degree in both subjects.
Life with Pierre Curie and Scientific Work
It was during this time that Marie met an acclaimed professor in Physics named Pierre Curie, a French scientist. In 1895, she married Pierre, who wanted to “spend life side-by-side” with her. Together, they began to research materials which gave them radiation.
Working with Antoine Henri Becquerel’s findings on radioactivity, the Curies discovered two new substances, which they called polonium (she named in honor of her nativeland, Poland) and radium that emitted high levels of radiation. Subsequent studies described the properties of radium that laid the foundation for research nuclear physics.
Nobel Prize for Physics, 1903
In 1903, the Curies and Antoine Becquerel won a Nobel Prize for physics. Marie was the first woman to receive this award. At the same time, she was also a recipient of the Davy Medal of the Royal Society.
Pierre’s Tragic Accident
Life with Pierre ended when he was killed in a road accident in 1906. The finding was that because of Pierre’s radiation exposure, he was in a weakened state when killed by a horse-drawn carriage while crossing a street. Pained over the loss of her husband, Marie remained focused. A grieving single mother with two daughters needing education, she acquired the professional position of her husband at Sorbonne. This time, she became the first woman professor in France.
Nobel Prize for Chemistry, 1911
Already a professor at Sorbonne, Marie still spent most of her time in her laboratory. She also published Traite de radioactivity in 1910. Eventually, she determined the atomic weight of radium. The following year, in 1911, she won her second Nobel Prize, this time, for Chemistry, an award hers alone.
Final Years and Legacy
Radium in small doses became very important in the treatment of cancer. Years of exposure to it damaged Marie Curie’s own health. As life has it, one of her greatest legacies to the world took her own. She died of a blood cancer on July 23, 1934. Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie (with son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie), also became a scientist and a Nobel Prize winner.
Madame Marie Curie received numerous awards, schools and place have been named after her. Curie’s many contributions to science and her humanitarian spirit cannot be quantified. With her help, doctors are able to advance treatment of cancer, manipulate nuclear energy, and forge many more advancements.