A Bit of History: The Life of Marie Curie

in #esteem2 years ago


There had been many women who had left their mark in history throughout the ages. But very few have contribution so great that it affects the world so profoundly like what Marie Curie did.

Who is Marie Curie?

Marie Curie is the first woman who won the Nobel Prize in Physics, and then later won another Nobel Prize in Chemistry thus making her the first person to win the Nobel Prize TWICE! Despite living in an age where women are looked down upon, Marie Curie manages to excel --- proving that women are as capable as men!

Though Marie Curie is not the first women to have her name written in history, she is without a doubt one of the most recognized.

Biography of Marie Curie

Marie Salomea Sklodowska later Marie Curie was born in Warsaw (modern-day Poland) on 7 November 1867. Both of Marie's parents were teachers, her father, Wladyslaw was a math and physic instructor and her mother was Bronislawa (who died of tuberculosis 10 years later).

As a child, Marie have a bright and curious mind which makes her an excellent and top student in her secondary school; receiving a golden medal on her graduation. Unfortunately, despite her excellence, her gender prevented her from attending the university in Warsaw who at that time only accepted men. But Marie is not someone easily deterred. She greatly desired to continue her education, therefore, she attended Warsaw's so called "floating" university, which in reality just a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.

Though she was able to attend these secret university classes, Marie find it lacking as she (and her sister Bronya) dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree. There's just one problem; Marie's family was not financially capable to finance their education abroad. The reason for this was because her father lost his money in a bad investment. Still, this did not stump Marie and her sister. In an incredible show of determination, Marie worked out a deal with Bronya; she would work to support Bronya's medical studies in Paris, and Bronya would later return the favor once she completed her studies.

At the age of 18, Marie worked as a tutor and a governess (where she suffered an unhappy love affair). In her spare time, she would study, reading books about chemistry, physics, and math.

In 1891, Marie's sacrifice finally paid off. She made her way to Paris and enrolled herself at Sorbonne. Once in university, Marie dedicated herself fully to her studies. Yet her dedication came at the cost of her health. Being a poor student, Marie did not have enough money for proper food; virtually sustaining herself with buttered bread and tea. This poor diet of her oftentimes contributed to her poor health.

While in Sorbonne, Marie attended the lectures of Paul Appel, Gabriel Lippmann, and Edmond Bouty. There she met and acquainted herself to physicists who were already well known such as Jean Perrin, Charles Maurain, and Aimé Cotton.

But all of her dedication was not in vain; in 1893, Marie completed her master degree in physics, and earned another degree in mathematics the following year while working at Lippmann's research laboratory at the same time. In the spring of that year, Marie met her future husband, Pierre Curie, and got married in July 25, 1895.


Marie and Pierre were both excellent scientist, and their partnership led to research results of world significance. Among this was the discovery of polonium (named as such by Marie in honor of her native land) in the summer of 1898, quickly followed by the discovery of radium a few months later --- championing the development of x-rays which is used extensively today in the field of medicine.

In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered a new phenomenon which Marie later called "radioactivity". Marie, while looking for a subject for a thesis, decided to research if such phenomena occurring to uranium was to be found with other matter --- finding out (at the same time with as G.C. Schmidt did) that thorium also exhibits the same property.

As Marie's interest in radioactivity grew, she turned her attention to minerals; in particular her attention was drawn to pitchblende, a mineral whose radioactivity was superior to that of pure uranium. The high activity of the ore could only be explained by the presence of mysterious substances. Joined by Pierre, the couple tackled this mystery that resulted in the discovery of polonium and radium. After that discovery, Pierre dedicated herself to the study of radiation, while Marie struggled to obtain radium in metallic state; attaining this with the aid of one of Pierre's pupils --- the chemist, André-Louis Debierne.

The couples' research did no go unrecognized, Marie received her doctorate of science in June 1903, and the Royal Society awarded Pierre with the Davy Medal. Also in 1903, Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of radioactivity --- sharing the honor with Becquerel.

In 1897 and 1904, Marie gave birth to two daughters, Irene and Eve. Despite this though, their birth did not interrupt Marie's intensive scientific work. In 1900, Marie was appointed lecturer in physics at the École Normale Supérieure for girls in Sèvres and introduced there a method of teaching based on experimental demonstrations. Then in December 1904 she was appointed chief assistant in the laboratory directed by her husband, Pierre Curie.

Marie and Pierre's eldest daughter, was an excellent scientist and chemist herself; managing to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. In the 1920's, Marie's health began to deteriorate most likely due to exposure to radiation. After decades of researching radioactivity, Marie’s dangerous research finally caught up to her; and on July 04, 1934, Marie Curie succumbed to leukemia, caused by exposure to high-energy radiation.

Final Thought

Marie Curie’s life was never been easy; being born a woman made her high aspiration very difficult to achieve. Even with her great success, Marie still faced great opposition from male scientist in France; not mentioning the fact that she never received significant financial benefits from her work. But none of these stopped Marie from pursuing her dream --- benefiting the world in the process.



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