Marie Curie:The Secrets Within
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
"Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseveranceand above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we aregifted for something and that this thing must be attained." -Marie Curie


EARLY LIFE

Marie Curie's birthplace-now Marie Sklodowska-Curie Museum
Marie Curie's birthplace-now Marie Sklodowska-Curie Museum
Marie Sklodowska Curie was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She was the fifth child of Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski. Marie was fortunate enough to be born into a family that valued education. Her mother was a secondary school teacher, so, she was able to receive an education from the local schools. Unfortunately, in Poland, women would only receive a fairly basic knowledge from the local schools. However, she was able to obtain scientific training from her father, who taught mathematics and physics. At the age of sixteen, she finished her education at secondary school, ranking first in her class. Marie loved to learn and dreamed of studying at Sorbonne in Paris. Her family, sadly, did not have the financial means to send her to Paris because her father had made several poor investments with their savings. As a result, she and her sister, Bronia, took jobs as governesses so they could have a chance to obtain a university education.
Marie, Pierre and Irene Curie
Marie, Pierre and Irene Curie


Bronia was the first to leave for Paris with the financial help of her sister, Marie. Bronia promised in return, when she had finished her education, she would help Marie finance her own. In 1891, Marie finally had the chance to study in Paris. She planned to move in with her sister, Bronia, but the residence was too far away from the school. She, therefore, had to rent a tiny attic in Quartier Latin in order to be closer to the school. Marie, immediately, threw herself into her studies. She wrote, "It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty". In 1893, she completed her degree in physics and in 1894 she completed her degree in mathematics. The same year, she met Pierre Curie, a Professor in the school of Physics, and in 1895 they were married. Together they had two children, Irene, in 1897, and Eve, in 1904. Marie discovered it was extremely hard to balance her family life with her scientific career. However, she was able to manage both. Irene achieved a Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Eve wrote a very successful biography on her mother.


HER STUDIES

Marie was actually working on an investigation for the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, researching the magnetic properties of different steels before she was intrigued by radioactivity. Over two years, she completed her research and submitted her results. She began to look for a new topic, one, she hoped, would secure her a doctorate in science. Thus, she began her study of radioactive materials. This study did eventually secure her a doctorate, with her thesis on "Research and Radioactive Substances". This degree made Marie Curie the first woman ever in Europe to receive a doctoral degree. Her studies on radioactive material were vast and extensive. She spent many years working with radioactive substances before being awarded her degree. Even then, Marie spent the rest of her life examining and experimenting with radioactive materials.
Roentgen's Early X-ray Photograph
Roentgen's Early X-ray Photograph


Marie Curie was a physicist and chemist who had key involvement in radioactivity. She was fascinated by the recent discoveries in radiation. In 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen had discovered X-rays and, in 1896, Henri Becquerel had discovered uranium. Although the scientific community ignored Becquerel’s fascinating find because the uranium rays were much weaker, it was actually the discovery of radioactivity. These two discoveries inspired the research of Marie and Pierre Curie. The rays discovered by Henri Becquerel captivated Marie. She began experimental work in a cramped store room she had to use as a lab. A few years earlier, Pierre
Device invented by Pierre and Jacques
Device invented by Pierre and Jacques
and his brother Jacques had invented a device that was able to measure very low electrical currents. This device was very useful to Marie when it came to measure the electrical effects of uranium. Marie was able to confirm Becquerel’s findings that uranium rays were constant. With the help of her research, she hypothesized: “The emission of rays by uranium compounds could be an atomic property of the element uranium--something built into the very structure of an atom”. Marie’s discovery changed the fundamental knowledge of society. Scientists believed that the atom was the smallest, however, Marie's conjecture proved to be correct. The atom was not indivisible, inside it contained energy (electrons, discovered in 1897 by J. J. Thompson).

In 1898, the Curie’s discovered polonium (named after Marie’s home country, Poland) and radium (named for its radioactivity). Pierre had put aside his own research on crystals to help Marie in her work. Their discovery of polonium was due to an experiment on uranium pitchblende ore. This substance, they discovered, was far more radioactive than uranium. They then concluded it must contain another, undiscovered, radioactive element. Pitchblende can contain up to 30 different elements so they had to perform various procedures in order to separate the elements. What they discovered was two new elements that were highly radioactive. However, other scientists did not have confidence in the discovery because the new radioactive substances were still mixed with other substances. So, the Curie's left the confined lab for an abandoned shed nearby to continue their research in a larger area and prove their discovery. It took over three years for Marie to get a one tenth of a gram sample of radium chloride. This fact was due to radioactive decay.

Radium was a fascinating new discovery. As Pierre worked with the radium, he discovered that it could damage human tissue. This scientific breakthrough was used to help fight against certain cancers and other diseases. Marie Curie was the first person ever to experiment with the treatment of cancers using radioactivity. In our life time, radiation is still being used to fight certain cancers. There have been ever more breakthroughs with the treatment of cancers due to Marie Curie's discovery and research. Marie Curie's discovery of radium and how radiation can be helpful in curing cancer has helped, and will continue to help, save many lives. However, in 1906, Marie Curie's husband Pierre had begun to feel the effects of radium and became ill. Fate had other plans for him and, ironically, on April 19, 1906, he was struck by a vehicle and killed.

“One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night....The glowing tubes looked like faint fairy lights." -Marie Curie

Marie and Pierre Curie
Marie and Pierre Curie
The old shed the Curie's used as a lab
The old shed the Curie's used as a lab
Marie Curie
Marie Curie







Mobile X-Ray Unit
Mobile X-Ray Unit
THE WAR


In 1914, Germany invaded France. The Radium Institute building had been completed by this time but because of the war Marie was not yet able to continue her research in her new laboratory. Therefore, Marie, along with the soon-to-be members of the new Institute all went out to aid in the war efforts. Marie believed that the discovery of X-rays would be extremely helpful during the war. She begged people to help her out with her idea and, in the end, she had 20 radiology vehicles to send out to the battle front. The purpose of these mobile radiography vehicles was to aid wounded soldiers. These vehicles were able to use the X-rays to find the bullets inside the injured soldiers. These vehicles became known as petites Curies or "little Curie's". Marie had used tubes of radium (radon) to power these vehicles. Her daughter, Irene, was her assistant and used her own scientific knowledge to aid her mother with the vehicles.

RADIUM INSTITUTE

In 1919, she established an organization called the Radium Institute in Warsaw with the help of scientists, the French Government and the private Pasteur Foundation. On a visit to the United States of America, she was given a gram of radium from President Harding, a gift from the Women of America. This tiny bit of radium could be used for thousands of experiments. As well, with this radium the Institute was able to purchase expensive equipment and further fund their research. Eventually, this Institute became the centre for the study of radioactivity in the world. In 1921, the American President, Herbert Hoover purchased radium with $50 000 donated by American Friends of Science. This radium was for use in Marie's laboratory to further her research. Before her death, the Institute had published 483 papers about radiation. Marie Curie, herself had written 31 of the research papers, an incredible contribution to the field. She spent most of her life at the Institute trying to consolidate her research by attempting to isolate polonium. However, she was never able to fully isolate polonium because the substance only has a half life of 138 days.

Marie Curie Statue outside the Radium Institute
Marie Curie Statue outside the Radium Institute



AWARDS AND DISTINCTIONS


Marie Curie's Nobel Prize for Chemistry
Marie Curie's Nobel Prize for Chemistry

Marie was honoured with two Nobel Prizes. She was the first woman to ever to receive a Nobel Prize and also the only person to ever receive two. In 1903, Marie shared a Nobel Prize along with her husband, Pierre, and Henri Becquerel in physics for their discovery of radioactivity. In 1911, Marie was, again, honoured with a Nobel Prize this time in Chemistry. She received this award for isolating pure radium. In 1935, Irene Joliot-Curie won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry. This made Marie and Irene the first ever mother and daughter to win Nobel Prizes. Marie was the recipient of many other awards. She received many honourary science, medicine and law degrees. In 1903, she and her husband shared the Davy Medal of the Royal Society. She was also offered membership into many societies that were well known, like Conseil du Physique Solvay and the French Academy of Medicine. In her lifetime, she received 15 gold medals and 19 degrees.


DEATH

Marie Sklodowska Curie was an amazing woman. Marie made a strong impact on society.She changed the face of science and, also, changed the way society viewed women. She studied radioactivity. She discovered two new elements, radium and polonium. She was the first woman who received a Nobel Prize and the first person ever to receive two. She was the first female professor at a University in Paris. With her guidance, the first studies for treating cancers using radiation began. The scientific community found it hard to accept a woman. In order for her to acheive success, she had to overcome many obstacles and work harder than any man because the scientific community could not accept the fact that she was a woman scientist. She was an extraordinary woman whose discoveries where remarkable breakthroughs in science and the study of radioactivity. Marie died on July 4, 1935 from pernicious anemia. This was most likely caused by her overexposure to radioactive materials and improper safeguarding when handling them. After her death, the Radium Institute was renamed the Curie Institute. Her cremated ashes can be found in the Pantheon of Paris where she was moved in honour of her discoveries.

Marie Curie's Grave in the Pantheon in Paris
Marie Curie's Grave in the Pantheon in Paris


"I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale." -Marie Curie