Curie, Marie Sklodowska

Polish chemist

Born: Warsaw, Poland, November 7,1867

Died: Haute Savoir, France, July 4, 1934

Lecoq De Boisbaudran

Marie Sklodowska was born and educated at high-school in Poland. At that time, Poland was under Russian domination and Marie was unable to obtain higher learning in the repressed state. After the death of her mother, she saved up enough money to move to Paris, where she entered the Sorbonne in 1891.

She managed to educate herself by living frugally, and even fainted from hunger during a lecture, but she graduated top of her class. In 1894 she met French chemist Pierre Curie who had already made a name for himself in the field of piezoelectricity, which is a study of the eletric potential of crystals. They were married in 1895.

Marie was interested in the discovery of X-rays by Roentgen, and the discovery of uranium radiation by Becquerel, confirming that there were three different types of rays in uranium radiation, namely, alpha, beta, and gamma. It was she who coined the term "radioactivity", which is still in use today. In 1898, she showed that the heavy element thorium was also radioactive.

Marie Curie was joined in her researches by her husband, Pierre. By July 1898, they had isolated a new element which was hundreds of times more radioactive than uranium. This they named polonium, after her native land. In December 1898, they detected an even more radioactive substance which they called radium.

The Curies used their life savings to purchase and ship tons of ore from various mines so that they could obtain more radium for testing. Working in an old shed, the now pregnant Marie and her husband, spent hours purifying the tons of ore into more and more radioactive samples. Finally in 1902, despite having to take care of their baby, Irene, they succeeded in preparing a tenth of a gram of radium.

In 1906, Pierre was killed in a traffic accident, being run over by a horse drawn vehicle. Marie took over his professorship at the Sorbonne, the first woman ever to teach there. She was awarded the Nobel prize in physics in 1903 for her studies in radioactivity. She received a second Nobel prize in 1911 for her discovery of two new elements. She is the only person who has ever received two Nobel prizes for science. Marie Curie died in 1934 of leukemia caused by over-exposure to radiation.

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