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Marie Curie – The Legendary Lady Scientist

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Marie Curie – The Legendary Lady Scientist

Welcome back people, So let’s start with a small guessing game.

This is a quote “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.” by an eminent physicist, chemist, and pioneer in the study of radiation.

If you didn’t get it, there’s one more clue. This outstanding personality is the first person in the world to get two Nobel Laureates. Yes, It’s none other than Marie Curie.

So wasting no time, let’s start on and find out more about this remarkable personality and what were her inventions which transformed our lives.

Early Life And Family

Marie Curie, born as Maria Salomea Skłodowska on  Nov. 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was the youngest of the five with three elder sisters and one brother. Her father, Wladyslaw, and mother, Bronislava were teachers who educated all of their children.

Curie’s mother died of tuberculosis, and it is said that this had a great impact on Curie’s life.

One of Curie’s professors got her a research grant for her to study the magnetic properties and chemical composition of the steel. That research project put her in contact with Pierre Curie, who was likewise an accomplished scientist. These two got married in the summer of 1895. In 1906 when Pierre was killed in Paris after accidentally stepping in front of a horse-drawn wagon.

In 1897, Marie and Pierre welcomed a daughter, Irène. The couple had a second daughter, Ève, in 1904. Irène Joliot-Curie followed in her mother’s footsteps, winning the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

In 1937, Ève Curie wrote the first of many biographies dedicated to her brilliant mother, Madame Curie, which turned into a feature film a few years thereafter.

Education

Marie from her childhood was outstanding for her outstanding memory, and at 16 she won a gold medal on completion of her secondary education at the Russian lycée.

Marie and her sister Bronya wanted to pursue higher education, but the male-only Warsaw University did not accept them. So at 17, Curie became a governess to support pay for her sister’s attendance at medical school in Paris.

In 1891, Curie finally went to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne when her sister offered her lodgings in Paris to go to university.

Curie finished her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and obtained one more degree in mathematics the succeeding year. Marie married French physicist Pierre Curie on July 26, 1895.

Inventions And Discoveries

Curie discovered radioactivity, and, collectively with her husband Pierre, the radioactive elements polonium and radium while working with the mineral pitchblende. She also championed the development of X-rays after Pierre’s death.

Radioactivity, Polonium, and Radium.

Curie was fascinated by the reports of German physicist Wilhelm Röntgen’s exploration of X-rays and by French physicist Henri Becquerel’s report of identical “Becquerel rays” emitted by uranium salts.

Curie conducted her own experiments on uranium rays and found out that they remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium used. The rays, she theorized, came from the element’s atomic structure. This revolutionary idea created an all-new field of atomic physics. Curie herself coined the word “radioactivity” to describe this phenomenon.

Following Curie’s discovery of radioactivity, she continued her research with her husband Pierre. Working with the mineral pitchblende, they both discovered a new radioactive element in 1898. They named the element polonium, after Curie’s native country of Poland.

 

They also detected the presence of another radioactive material in the pitchblende and called that radium. In 1902, the Curies announced that they had produced a decigram of pure radium, showing its existence as a unique chemical element.

Marie eventually isolated radium (as radium chloride), determining its atomic weight as 225.93. The journey to the discovery had been long and arduous.

In June 1903, Marie Curie was the first woman in France to defend her doctoral thesis. In November of that year the Curie pair with Henri Becquerel were declared winners of the Nobel Prize in Physics for their contributions to the understanding of “radiation phenomena.

On May 13, 1906, she was appointed to the professorship that had been left vacant on her husband’s death. She was the first woman professor in the Sorbonne.

She became a nominal professor in 1908, and she published in 1910 her fundamental treatise on radioactivity. It was in 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for the isolation of pure radium.

In 1914 she saw the completion of the building of the laboratories of the Radium Institute (Institut du Radium) at the University of Paris.

2011 was declared the “International Year of Chemistry.” in honor of the 100-year anniversary of her Nobel award.

Development of X-rays.

When World War I burst out in 1914, Curie devoted her time and resources to help. She championed the use of portable X-ray machines in the field, and these medical vehicles earned the nickname “Little Curies.”

In October 1914, the first machines, known as “Petits Curies”, were ready, and Marie set off to the front. She worked with her daughter Irene, then aged 17, at casualty clearing stations close to the front line, X-raying wounded men to locate fractures, bullets, and shrapnel.


In 1918 the Radium Institute, the staff of which Irène had joined, operated in earnest, and it was to become a universal center for nuclear physics and chemistry.

Throughout World War I, Marie Curie, with the help of her daughter Irène, devoted herself to the development of the use of X-radiography. As Director of the Red Cross Radiological Service, she toured Paris, asking for money, supplies, and vehicles which could be converted.

After the war, Marie continued her work as a researcher, teacher, and head of a laboratory and received many awards and prizes. Among them were the Ellan Richards Research Prize (1921), the Grand Prix du Marquis d’Argenteuil (1923) and the Cameron Prize from Edinburgh University (1931). She was also the recipient of many honorary degrees from universities around the world.

One of Marie Curie’s remarkable accomplishments was to have understood the need to accumulate intense radioactive sources, not merely to treat illness but also to maintain an abundant supply for research in nuclear physics; the resultant stockpile was an unrivaled instrument until the appearance after 1930 of particle accelerators.

Curie died on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, presumed to be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation. Curie made many breakthroughs in her lifetime. Remembered as a leading figure in science and a role model for women, she has received many posthumous honors. Several educational and research institutions and medical centers bear the Curie name, including the Curie Institute and Pierre and Marie Curie University (UPMC).

The story of the Nobel laureate was back on the big screen in 2017 with Marie Curie: The Courage of Knowledge, featuring Polish actress Karolina Gruszka. In 2018, Amazon announced the development of another biopic of Curie, with British actress Rosamund Pike in the starring role.

So, those were a few things you need to know about the legendary lady scientist who gave a lot of things to the world through her research.

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