Marie Curie Biography

Marie Curie isolated radium, won two Nobel Prizes, was first female instructor at Sorbonne, held degrees in math, physics and chemistry.

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. She was renowned for her work with radioactivity, and it was that work that would eventually end her life.

She was born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867. She was the fifth and last child of piano player and teacher Bronsilawa Boguska and mathematics and physics professor, Wladyslaw Sklodowski. Her childhood nickname was Manya. Her father was a freethinker and her mother was a Catholic.

Her family valued education, and so she began her education early. She possessed a remarkable memory. She graduated from secondary school when she was sixteen, receiving a gold medal for her work. Unfortunately her father made some bad investments and she had to go to work at a young age as a teacher, postponing the continuance of her own education. At the age of 18 she became a governess, and put her sister, Bronia, through school with the agreement that Bronia would return the favor- and she did.

In 1891 at the age of 24, Sklodowska went to Paris to study mathematics, physics and chemistry at the Sorbonne. She studied fervently, and subsisted almost entirely on bread, butter and tea. During her years there she changed the spelling of her name to the French version, Marie.

She met Pierre Curie in Paris while she studied there, and they soon married in a Civil ceremony. Marie had left the Catholic church when she was 20 and Pierre was not a member of any religion, either.

Marie and Pierre Curie devoted themselves to the study of radioactivity, and were among the first to work with radium and polonium. It was Marie Curie who coined the term radioactivity, and she named Polonium after her home country of Poland. Pierre was chiefly concerned with the physical properties of radium and polonium, while Marie worked to isolate radium in its pure state. She and one of Pierre's students, Mr. Debierne, accomplished this, and Marie received her doctorate in 1903 based on her findings. Also in 1903, the Curies won the Nobel Prize for their work along with French physicist, Antoine Henri Bacquerel, who had first discovered natural radioactivity.

Marie and Pierre Curie had two daughters. Irene was born in 1897 and Eve was born in 1904. During their childhoods Marie was a physics instructor at the Normal Superior School for girls in Sévres, France. In 1904 she became chief assistant in Pierre's laboratory.

In 1906, Pierre Curie, whose health had begun to fail due to the work with radioactivity, was hit by a car and killed. This was a deep tragedy for the family, but it strengthened Marie's resolve to continue their work. On May 13, she was appointed to fill Pierre's position and became the first female professor at the Sorbonne.

In 1911 Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize for her achievement of isolating radium and examining its chemical properties. She was the first person ever to receive two Nobel Prizes. In 1914 she co-founded the Radium Institute in Paris and was it's first Director. During the first World War, Curie and her daughter, Irene, taught a team of 150 nurses to use X-rays so that bullets could be located in injured soldiers. In 1921 she traveled to the United States where President Warren Harding presented her with a gram of radium purchased with a collection taken up among American Women. In 1922, as a member of the French Academy of Medicine she devoted her work to medical applications of radioactive substances. In 1932, the Radium Institute of Warsaw, Poland opened, under the directorship of Marie's sister, Bronia.

Marie Curie died at the age of 67 in 1934 of leukemia, brought on by her years of exposure to high levels of radiation. Her cremated remains are kept in the Pantheon in Paris. She was the first woman to be honored in this way for her personal achievements. After her death the Radium Institute was renamed the Curie Institute.

In 1935, the Curie's daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry, making them the first mother and daughter to share this honor.

© High Speed Ventures 2011