Marie Curie

Marie Skłodowska Curie (/ˈkjʊəri/;[3] French: [kyʁi]; Polish: [kʲiˈri]; born Maria Salomea Skłodowska;[a] 7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw's clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined),[4][5] techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

While a French citizen, Marie Skłodowska Curie, who used both surnames,[6][7] never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland.[8] She named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.[b]

Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at a sanatorium in Sancellemoz (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.[10]

Marie Curie
Marie Curie c1920
c. 1920
Maria Salomea Skłodowska

7 November 1867
Died4 July 1934 (aged 66)
Cause of deathAplastic anemia from exposure to radiation
ResidencePoland, France
  • Poland (by birth)
  • France (by marriage)
Alma mater
Known for
Spouse(s)Pierre Curie (1859–1906; m. 1895)
Scientific career
FieldsPhysics, chemistry
ThesisRecherches sur les substances radioactives (Research on Radioactive Substances)
Doctoral advisorGabriel Lippmann
Doctoral students
Marie Curie Skłodowska Signature Polish
She is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.


Early years

Sklodowski Family Wladyslaw and his daughters Maria Bronislawa Helena
Władysław Skłodowski with daughters (from left) Maria, Bronisława, Helena, 1890

Maria Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, in Congress Poland in the Russian Empire, on 7 November 1867, the fifth and youngest child of well-known teachers Bronisława, née Boguska, and Władysław Skłodowski.[11] The elder siblings of Maria (nicknamed Mania) were Zofia (born 1862, nicknamed Zosia), Józef (born 1863, nicknamed Józio), Bronisława (born 1865, nicknamed Bronia) and Helena (born 1866, nicknamed Hela).[12][13]

On both the paternal and maternal sides, the family had lost their property and fortunes through patriotic involvements in Polish national uprisings aimed at restoring Poland's independence (the most recent had been the January Uprising of 1863–65).[14] This condemned the subsequent generation, including Maria and her elder siblings, to a difficult struggle to get ahead in life.[14] Maria's paternal grandfather, Józef Skłodowski, had been a respected teacher in Lublin, where he taught the young Bolesław Prus,[15] who would become a leading figure in Polish literature.[16]

Władysław Skłodowski taught mathematics and physics, subjects that Maria was to pursue, and was also director of two Warsaw gymnasia for boys. After Russian authorities eliminated laboratory instruction from the Polish schools, he brought much of the laboratory equipment home, and instructed his children in its use.[12] He was eventually fired by his Russian supervisors for pro-Polish sentiments, and forced to take lower-paying posts; the family also lost money on a bad investment, and eventually chose to supplement their income by lodging boys in the house.[12] Maria's mother Bronisława operated a prestigious Warsaw boarding school for girls; she resigned from the position after Maria was born.[12] She died of tuberculosis in May 1878, when Maria was ten years old.[12] Less than three years earlier, Maria's oldest sibling, Zofia, had died of typhus contracted from a boarder.[12] Maria's father was an atheist; her mother a devout Catholic.[17] The deaths of Maria's mother and sister caused her to give up Catholicism and become agnostic.[18]

When she was ten years old, Maria began attending the boarding school of J. Sikorska; next she attended a gymnasium for girls, from which she graduated on 12 June 1883 with a gold medal.[11] After a collapse, possibly due to depression,[12] she spent the following year in the countryside with relatives of her father, and the next year with her father in Warsaw, where she did some tutoring.[11] Unable to enroll in a regular institution of higher education because she was a woman, she and her sister Bronisława became involved with the clandestine Flying University (sometimes translated as Floating University), a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning that admitted women students.[11][12]

Maria Sklodowska et sa sœur Bronislawa en 1886
Maria Skłodowska (left) with sister Bronisława, ca. 1886

Maria made an agreement with her sister, Bronisława, that she would give her financial assistance during Bronisława's medical studies in Paris, in exchange for similar assistance two years later.[11][19] In connection with this, Maria took a position as governess: first as a home tutor in Warsaw; then for two years as a governess in Szczuki with a landed family, the Żorawskis, who were relatives of her father.[11][19] While working for the latter family, she fell in love with their son, Kazimierz Żorawski, a future eminent mathematician.[19] His parents rejected the idea of his marrying the penniless relative, and Kazimierz was unable to oppose them.[19] Maria's loss of the relationship with Żorawski was tragic for both. He soon earned a doctorate and pursued an academic career as a mathematician, becoming a professor and rector of Kraków University. Still, as an old man and a mathematics professor at the Warsaw Polytechnic, he would sit contemplatively before the statue of Maria Skłodowska which had been erected in 1935 before the Radium Institute that she had founded in 1932.[14][20]

At the beginning of 1890, Bronisława—who a few months earlier had married Kazimierz Dłuski, a Polish physician and social and political activist—invited Maria to join them in Paris. Maria declined because she could not afford the university tuition; it would take her a year and a half longer to gather the necessary funds.[11] She was helped by her father, who was able to secure a more lucrative position again.[19] All that time she continued to educate herself, reading books, exchanging letters, and being tutored herself.[19] In early 1889 she returned home to her father in Warsaw.[11] She continued working as a governess, and remained there till late 1891.[19] She tutored, studied at the Flying University, and began her practical scientific training (1890–91) in a chemical laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture at Krakowskie Przedmieście 66, near Warsaw's Old Town.[11][12][19] The laboratory was run by her cousin Józef Boguski, who had been an assistant in Saint Petersburg to the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.[11][19][21]

New life in Paris

In late 1891, she left Poland for France.[22] In Paris, Maria (or Marie, as she would be known in France) briefly found shelter with her sister and brother-in-law before renting a garret closer to the university, in the Latin Quarter, and proceeding with her studies of physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the University of Paris, where she enrolled in late 1891.[23][24] She subsisted on her meager resources, keeping herself warm during cold winters by wearing all the clothes she had. She focused so hard on her studies that she sometimes forgot to eat.[24]

Skłodowska studied during the day and tutored evenings, barely earning her keep. In 1893, she was awarded a degree in physics and began work in an industrial laboratory of Professor Gabriel Lippmann. Meanwhile, she continued studying at the University of Paris, and with the aid of a fellowship she was able to earn a second degree in 1894.[11][24][c]

Skłodowska had begun her scientific career in Paris with an investigation of the magnetic properties of various steels, commissioned by the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry (Société d'encouragement pour l'industrie nationale [1]).[24] That same year Pierre Curie entered her life; it was their mutual interest in natural sciences that drew them together.[25] Pierre Curie was an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry, the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la ville de Paris (ESPCI).[11] They were introduced by the Polish physicist, Professor Józef Wierusz-Kowalski, who had learned that she was looking for a larger laboratory space, something that Wierusz-Kowalski thought Pierre Curie had access to.[11][24] Though Curie did not have a large laboratory, he was able to find some space for Skłodowska where she was able to begin work.[24]

Their mutual passion for science brought them increasingly closer, and they began to develop feelings for one another.[11][24] Eventually Pierre Curie proposed marriage, but at first Skłodowska did not accept as she was still planning to go back to her native country. Curie, however, declared that he was ready to move with her to Poland, even if it meant being reduced to teaching French.[11] Meanwhile, for the 1894 summer break, Skłodowska returned to Warsaw, where she visited her family.[24] She was still laboring under the illusion that she would be able to work in her chosen field in Poland, but she was denied a place at Kraków University because she was a woman.[14] A letter from Pierre Curie convinced her to return to Paris to pursue a Ph.D.[24] At Skłodowska's insistence, Curie had written up his research on magnetism and received his own doctorate in March 1895; he was also promoted to professor at the School.[24] A contemporary quip would call Skłodowska "Pierre's biggest discovery."[14] On 26 July 1895 they were married in Sceaux (Seine);[26] neither wanted a religious service.[11][24] Curie's dark blue outfit, worn instead of a bridal gown, would serve her for many years as a laboratory outfit.[24] They shared two pastimes: long bicycle trips, and journeys abroad, which brought them even closer. In Pierre, Marie had found a new love, a partner, and a scientific collaborator on whom she could depend.[14]

New elements

Pierre and Marie Curie
Pierre and Marie Curie in the laboratory

In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the existence of X-rays, though the mechanism behind their production was not yet understood.[27] In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts emitted rays that resembled X-rays in their penetrating power.[27] He demonstrated that this radiation, unlike phosphorescence, did not depend on an external source of energy but seemed to arise spontaneously from uranium itself. Influenced by these two important discoveries, Curie decided to look into uranium rays as a possible field of research for a thesis.[11][27]

She used an innovative technique to investigate samples. Fifteen years earlier, her husband and his brother had developed a version of the electrometer, a sensitive device for measuring electric charge.[27] Using her husband's electrometer, she discovered that uranium rays caused the air around a sample to conduct electricity. Using this technique, her first result was the finding that the activity of the uranium compounds depended only on the quantity of uranium present.[27] She hypothesized that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction of molecules but must come from the atom itself.[27] This hypothesis was an important step in disproving the assumption that atoms were indivisible.[27][28]

In 1897, her daughter Irène was born. To support her family, Curie began teaching at the École Normale Supérieure.[22] The Curies did not have a dedicated laboratory; most of their research was carried out in a converted shed next to the School of Physics and Chemistry.[22] The shed, formerly a medical school dissecting room, was poorly ventilated and not even waterproof.[29] They were unaware of the deleterious effects of radiation exposure attendant on their continued unprotected work with radioactive substances. The School did not sponsor her research, but she would receive subsidies from metallurgical and mining companies and from various organizations and governments.[22][29][30]

Curie's systematic studies included two uranium minerals, pitchblende and torbernite (also known as chalcolite).[29] Her electrometer showed that pitchblende was four times as active as uranium itself, and chalcolite twice as active. She concluded that, if her earlier results relating the quantity of uranium to its activity were correct, then these two minerals must contain small quantities of another substance that was far more active than uranium.[29][31] She began a systematic search for additional substances that emit radiation, and by 1898 she discovered that the element thorium was also radioactive.[27] Pierre Curie was increasingly intrigued by her work. By mid-1898 he was so invested in it that he decided to drop his work on crystals and to join her.[22][29]

The [research] idea [writes Reid] was her own; no one helped her formulate it, and although she took it to her husband for his opinion she clearly established her ownership of it. She later recorded the fact twice in her biography of her husband to ensure there was no chance whatever of any ambiguity. It [is] likely that already at this early stage of her career [she] realized that... many scientists would find it difficult to believe that a woman could be capable of the original work in which she was involved.[32]

Marie Pierre Irene Curie
Pierre, Irène, Marie Curie

She was acutely aware of the importance of promptly publishing her discoveries and thus establishing her priority. Had not Becquerel, two years earlier, presented his discovery to the Académie des Sciences the day after he made it, credit for the discovery of radioactivity, and even a Nobel Prize, would instead have gone to Silvanus Thompson. Curie chose the same rapid means of publication. Her paper, giving a brief and simple account of her work, was presented for her to the Académie on 12 April 1898 by her former professor, Gabriel Lippmann.[33] Even so, just as Thompson had been beaten by Becquerel, so Curie was beaten in the race to tell of her discovery that thorium gives off rays in the same way as uranium; two months earlier, Gerhard Carl Schmidt had published his own finding in Berlin.[34]

At that time, no one else in the world of physics had noticed what Curie recorded in a sentence of her paper, describing how much greater were the activities of pitchblende and chalcolite than uranium itself: "The fact is very remarkable, and leads to the belief that these minerals may contain an element which is much more active than uranium." She later would recall how she felt "a passionate desire to verify this hypothesis as rapidly as possible."[34] On 14 April 1898, the Curies optimistically weighed out a 100-gram sample of pitchblende and ground it with a pestle and mortar. They did not realize at the time that what they were searching for was present in such minute quantities that they would eventually have to process tons of the ore.[34]

In July 1898, Curie and her husband published a joint paper announcing the existence of an element which they named "polonium", in honour of her native Poland, which would for another twenty years remain partitioned among three empires (Russian, Austrian, and Prussian).[11] On 26 December 1898, the Curies announced the existence of a second element, which they named "radium", from the Latin word for "ray".[22][29][35] In the course of their research, they also coined the word "radioactivity".[11]

To prove their discoveries beyond any doubt, the Curies sought to isolate polonium and radium in pure form.[29] Pitchblende is a complex mineral; the chemical separation of its constituents was an arduous task. The discovery of polonium had been relatively easy; chemically it resembles the element bismuth, and polonium was the only bismuth-like substance in the ore.[29] Radium, however, was more elusive; it is closely related chemically to barium, and pitchblende contains both elements. By 1898 the Curies had obtained traces of radium, but appreciable quantities, uncontaminated with barium, were still beyond reach.[36] The Curies undertook the arduous task of separating out radium salt by differential crystallization. From a ton of pitchblende, one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride was separated in 1902. In 1910, she isolated pure radium metal.[29][37] She never succeeded in isolating polonium, which has a half-life of only 138 days.[29]

Between 1898 and 1902, the Curies published, jointly or separately, a total of 32 scientific papers, including one that announced that, when exposed to radium, diseased, tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells.[38]

Pierre Curie (1859-1906) and Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934), c. 1903 (4405627519)
Pierre and Marie Curie, c. 1903

In 1900, Curie became the first woman faculty member at the École Normale Supérieure, and her husband joined the faculty of the University of Paris.[39][40] In 1902 she visited Poland on the occasion of her father's death.[22]

In June 1903, supervised by Gabriel Lippmann, Curie was awarded her doctorate from the University of Paris.[22][41] That month the couple were invited to the Royal Institution in London to give a speech on radioactivity; being a woman, she was prevented from speaking, and Pierre Curie alone was allowed to.[42] Meanwhile, a new industry began developing, based on radium.[39] The Curies did not patent their discovery and benefited little from this increasingly profitable business.[29][39]

Nobel Prizes

Marie Curie 1903
1903 Nobel Prize portrait
Nobel Pierre et Marie Curie 1
1903 Nobel Prize diploma

In December 1903, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel."[22] At first the committee had intended to honor only Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, but a committee member and advocate for women scientists, Swedish mathematician Magnus Goesta Mittag-Leffler, alerted Pierre to the situation, and after his complaint, Marie's name was added to the nomination.[43] Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.[22]

Curie and her husband declined to go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person; they were too busy with their work, and Pierre Curie, who disliked public ceremonies, was feeling increasingly ill.[42][43] As Nobel laureates were required to deliver a lecture, the Curies finally undertook the trip in 1905.[43] The award money allowed the Curies to hire their first laboratory assistant.[43] Following the award of the Nobel Prize, and galvanized by an offer from the University of Geneva, which offered Pierre Curie a position, the University of Paris gave him a professorship and the chair of physics, although the Curies still did not have a proper laboratory.[22][39][40] Upon Pierre Curie's complaint, the University of Paris relented and agreed to furnish a new laboratory, but it would not be ready until 1906.[43]

In December 1904, Curie gave birth to their second daughter, Ève.[43] She hired Polish governesses to teach her daughters her native language, and sent or took them on visits to Poland.[8]

On 19 April 1906, Pierre Curie was killed in a road accident. Walking across the Rue Dauphine in heavy rain, he was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels, causing his skull to fracture.[22][44] Curie was devastated by her husband's death.[45] On 13 May 1906 the physics department of the University of Paris decided to retain the chair that had been created for her late husband and to offer it to Marie. She accepted it, hoping to create a world-class laboratory as a tribute to her husband Pierre.[45][46] She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.[22]

Curie's quest to create a new laboratory did not end with the University of Paris, however. In her later years, she headed the Radium Institute (Institut du radium, now Curie Institute, Institut Curie), a radioactivity laboratory created for her by the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris.[46] The initiative for creating the Radium Institute had come in 1909 from Pierre Paul Émile Roux, director of the Pasteur Institute, who had been disappointed that the University of Paris was not giving Curie a proper laboratory and had suggested that she move to the Pasteur Institute.[22][47] Only then, with the threat of Curie leaving, did the University of Paris relent, and eventually the Curie Pavilion became a joint initiative of the University of Paris and the Pasteur Institute.[47]

1911 Solvay conference
At First Solvay Conference (1911), Curie (seated, second from right) confers with Henri Poincaré; standing, fourth from right, is Rutherford; second from right, Einstein; far right, Paul Langevin

In 1910 Curie succeeded in isolating radium; she also defined an international standard for radioactive emissions that was eventually named for her and Pierre: the curie.[46] Nevertheless, in 1911 the French Academy of Sciences failed, by one[22] or two votes,[48] to elect her to membership in the Academy. Elected instead was Édouard Branly, an inventor who had helped Guglielmo Marconi develop the wireless telegraph.[49] It was only over half a century later, in 1962, that a doctoral student of Curie's, Marguerite Perey, became the first woman elected to membership in the Academy.

Despite Curie's fame as a scientist working for France, the public's attitude tended toward xenophobia—the same that had led to the Dreyfus affair—which also fueled false speculation that Curie was Jewish.[22][48] During the French Academy of Sciences elections, she was vilified by the right-wing press as a foreigner and atheist.[48] Her daughter later remarked on the French press' hypocrisy in portraying Curie as an unworthy foreigner when she was nominated for a French honor, but portraying her as a French heroine when she received foreign honors such as her Nobel Prizes.[22]

In 1911 it was revealed that in 1910-11 Curie had conducted an affair of about a year's duration with physicist Paul Langevin, a former student of Pierre Curie's,[50] a married man who was estranged from his wife.[48] This resulted in a press scandal that was exploited by her academic opponents. Curie (then in her mid-40s) was five years older than Langevin and was misrepresented in the tabloids as a foreign Jewish home-wrecker.[51] When the scandal broke, she was away at a conference in Belgium; on her return, she found an angry mob in front of her house and had to seek refuge, with her daughters, in the home of her friend, Camille Marbo.[48]

Marie Skłodowska-Curie's Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911
1911 Nobel Prize diploma

International recognition for her work had been growing to new heights, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, overcoming opposition prompted by the Langevin scandal, honored her a second time, with the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.[14] This award was "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."[52] She was the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes, and remains alone with Linus Pauling as Nobel laureates in two fields each. A delegation of celebrated Polish men of learning, headed by novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, encouraged her to return to Poland and continue her research in her native country.[14] Curie's second Nobel Prize enabled her to persuade the French government into supporting the Radium Institute, built in 1914, where research was conducted in chemistry, physics, and medicine.[47] A month after accepting her 1911 Nobel Prize, she was hospitalised with depression and a kidney ailment. For most of 1912 she avoided public life but did spend time in England with her friend and fellow physicist, Hertha Ayrton. She returned to her laboratory only in December, after a break of about 14 months.[52]

In 1912, the Warsaw Scientific Society offered her the directorship of a new laboratory in Warsaw but she declined, focusing on the developing Radium Institute to be completed in August 1914, and on a new street named Rue Pierre-Curie.[47][52] She was appointed Director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris, founded in 1914.[53] She visited Poland in 1913 and was welcomed in Warsaw but the visit was mostly ignored by the Russian authorities. The Institute's development was interrupted by the coming war, as most researchers were drafted into the French Army, and it fully resumed its activities in 1919.[47][52][54]

World War I

Marie Curie - Mobile X-Ray-Unit
Curie in a mobile X-ray vehicle

During World War I, Curie recognised that wounded soldiers were best served if operated upon as soon as possible.[55] She saw a need for field radiological centres near the front lines to assist battlefield surgeons.[54] After a quick study of radiology, anatomy, and automotive mechanics she procured X-ray equipment, vehicles, auxiliary generators, and developed mobile radiography units, which came to be popularly known as petites Curies ("Little Curies").[54] She became the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and set up France's first military radiology centre, operational by late 1914.[54] Assisted at first by a military doctor and by her 17-year-old daughter Irène, Curie directed the installation of 20 mobile radiological vehicles and another 200 radiological units at field hospitals in the first year of the war.[47][54] Later, she began training other women as aides.[56]

In 1915, Curie produced hollow needles containing "radium emanation", a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later identified as radon, to be used for sterilizing infected tissue. She provided the radium from her own one-gram supply.[56] It is estimated that over a million wounded soldiers were treated with her X-ray units.[18][47] Busy with this work, she carried out very little scientific research during that period.[47] In spite of all her humanitarian contributions to the French war effort, Curie never received any formal recognition of it from the French government.[54]

Also, promptly after the war started, she attempted to donate her gold Nobel Prize medals to the war effort but the French National Bank refused to accept them.[56] She did buy war bonds, using her Nobel Prize money.[56] She said:

I am going to give up the little gold I possess. I shall add to this the scientific medals, which are quite useless to me. There is something else: by sheer laziness I had allowed the money for my second Nobel Prize to remain in Stockholm in Swedish crowns. This is the chief part of what we possess. I should like to bring it back here and invest it in war loans. The state needs it. Only, I have no illusions: this money will probably be lost.[55]

She was also an active member in committees of Polonia in France dedicated to the Polish cause.[57] After the war, she summarized her wartime experiences in a book, Radiology in War (1919).[56]

Postwar years

In 1920, for the 25th anniversary of the discovery of radium, the French government established a stipend for her; its previous recipient was Louis Pasteur (1822–95).[47] In 1921, she was welcomed triumphantly when she toured the United States to raise funds for research on radium. Mrs. William Brown Meloney, after interviewing Curie, created a Marie Curie Radium Fund and raised money to buy radium, publicising her trip.[47][58]

In 1921, U.S. President Warren G. Harding received her at the White House to present her with the 1 gram of radium collected in the United States.[59][60] Before the meeting, recognising her growing fame abroad, and embarrassed by the fact that she had no French official distinctions to wear in public, the French government offered her a Legion of Honour award, but she refused.[60][61] In 1922 she became a fellow of the French Academy of Medicine.[47] She also travelled to other countries, appearing publicly and giving lectures in Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Czechoslovakia.[62]

Led by Curie, the Institute produced four more Nobel Prize winners, including her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and her son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie.[63] Eventually it became one of the world's four major radioactivity-research laboratories, the others being the Cavendish Laboratory, with Ernest Rutherford; the Institute for Radium Research, Vienna, with Stefan Meyer; and the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Chemistry, with Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner.[63][64]

In August 1922 Marie Curie became a member of the League of Nations' newly created International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.[65][66] She sat on the Committee until 1934 and contributed to League of Nations scientific coordination with other prominent researchers such as Albert Einstein, Hendrik Lorentz, and Henri Bergson.[67] In 1923 she wrote a biography of her late husband, titled Pierre Curie.[68] In 1925 she visited Poland to participate in a ceremony laying the foundations for Warsaw's Radium Institute.[47] Her second American tour, in 1929, succeeded in equipping the Warsaw Radium Institute with radium; the Institute opened in 1932, with her sister Bronisława its director.[47][60] These distractions from her scientific labours, and the attendant publicity, caused her much discomfort but provided resources for her work.[60] In 1930 she was elected to the International Atomic Weights Committee, on which she served until her death.[69]


Sklodowska-Curie statue, Warsaw
1935 statue, facing the Radium Institute, Warsaw

Curie visited Poland for the last time in early 1934.[14][70] A few months later, on 4 July 1934, she died at the Sancellemoz sanatorium in Passy, Haute-Savoie, from aplastic anemia believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation.[47][71]

The damaging effects of ionising radiation were not known at the time of her work, which had been carried out without the safety measures later developed.[70] She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket,[72] and she stored them in her desk drawer, remarking on the faint light that the substances gave off in the dark.[73] Curie was also exposed to X-rays from unshielded equipment while serving as a radiologist in field hospitals during the war.[56] Although her many decades of exposure to radiation caused chronic illnesses (including near-blindness due to cataracts) and ultimately her death, she never really acknowledged the health risks of radiation exposure.[74]

She was interred at the cemetery in Sceaux, alongside her husband Pierre.[47] Sixty years later, in 1995, in honour of their achievements, the remains of both were transferred to the Panthéon, Paris. She became the first woman to be honoured with interment in the Panthéon on her own merits.[66]

Because of their levels of radioactive contamination, her papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle.[75] Even her cookbook is highly radioactive.[76] Her papers are kept in lead-lined boxes, and those who wish to consult them must wear protective clothing.[76] In her last year, she worked on a book, Radioactivity, which was published posthumously in 1935.[70]


The physical and societal aspects of the Curies' work contributed to shaping the world of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.[77] Cornell University professor L. Pearce Williams observes:

The result of the Curies' work was epoch-making. Radium's radioactivity was so great that it could not be ignored. It seemed to contradict the principle of the conservation of energy and therefore forced a reconsideration of the foundations of physics. On the experimental level the discovery of radium provided men like Ernest Rutherford with sources of radioactivity with which they could probe the structure of the atom. As a result of Rutherford's experiments with alpha radiation, the nuclear atom was first postulated. In medicine, the radioactivity of radium appeared to offer a means by which cancer could be successfully attacked.[37]

If Curie's work helped overturn established ideas in physics and chemistry, it has had an equally profound effect in the societal sphere. To attain her scientific achievements, she had to overcome barriers, in both her native and her adoptive country, that were placed in her way because she was a woman. This aspect of her life and career is highlighted in Françoise Giroud's Marie Curie: A Life, which emphasizes Curie's role as a feminist precursor.[14]

She was known for her honesty and moderate lifestyle.[22][77] Having received a small scholarship in 1893, she returned it in 1897 as soon as she began earning her keep.[11][30] She gave much of her first Nobel Prize money to friends, family, students, and research associates.[14] In an unusual decision, Curie intentionally refrained from patenting the radium-isolation process, so that the scientific community could do research unhindered.[78] She insisted that monetary gifts and awards be given to the scientific institutions she was affiliated with rather than to her.[77] She and her husband often refused awards and medals.[22] Albert Einstein reportedly remarked that she was probably the only person who could not be corrupted by fame.[14]

Awards, honours, and tributes

Panthéon Pierre et Marie Curie
Tomb of Pierre and Marie Curie, Panthéon, Paris

As one of the most famous women scientists to date, Marie Curie has become an icon in the scientific world and has received tributes from across the globe, even in the realm of pop culture.[79] In a 2009 poll carried out by New Scientist, she was voted the "most inspirational woman in science". Curie received 25.1 per cent of all votes cast, nearly twice as many as second-place Rosalind Franklin (14.2 per cent).[80][81]

Poland and France declared 2011 the Year of Marie Curie, and the United Nations declared that this would be the International Year of Chemistry.[82] An artistic installation celebrating "Madame Curie" filled the Jacobs Gallery at San Diego's Museum of Contemporary Art.[83] On 7 November, Google celebrated the anniversary of her birth with a special Google Doodle.[84] On 10 December, the New York Academy of Sciences celebrated the centenary of Marie Curie's second Nobel Prize in the presence of Princess Madeleine of Sweden.[85]

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.[86] Awards that she received include:

Marie Curie's 1898 publication with her husband and their collaborator Gustave Bémont[91] for their discovery of radium and polonium was honored by a Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award from the Division of History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society presented to the ESPCI Paris (Ecole supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la Ville de Paris) in 2015.[92][93]

In 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon, Paris.[66] The curie (symbol Ci), a unit of radioactivity, is named in honour of her and Pierre Curie (although the commission which agreed on the name never clearly stated whether the standard was named after Pierre, Marie or both of them).[94] The element with atomic number 96 was named curium.[95] Three radioactive minerals are also named after the Curies: curite, sklodowskite, and cuprosklodowskite.[96] She received numerous honorary degrees from universities across the world.[60] The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowship program of the European Union for young scientists wishing to work in a foreign country is named after her.[97] In Poland, she had received honorary doctorates from the Lwów Polytechnic (1912),[98]Poznań University (1922), Kraków's Jagiellonian University (1924), and the Warsaw Polytechnic (1926).[82] In 1921, in the U.S., she was awarded membership in the Iota Sigma Pi women scientists' society.[99]

Her name is included on the Monument to the X-ray and Radium Martyrs of All Nations, erected in Hamburg, Germany in 1936.[100]

Numerous locations around the world are named after her. In 2007, a metro station in Paris was renamed to honour both of the Curies.[96] Polish nuclear research reactor Maria is named after her.[101] The 7000 Curie asteroid is also named after her.[96] A KLM McDonnell Douglas MD-11 (registration PH-KCC) is named in her honour.[102]

Several institutions bear her name, starting with the two Curie institutes: the Maria Skłodowska–Curie Institute of Oncology, in Warsaw and the Institut Curie in Paris. She is the patron of Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, in Lublin, founded in 1944; and of Pierre and Marie Curie University (Paris VI), France's pre-eminent science university. In Britain, Marie Curie Cancer Care was organized in 1948 to care for the terminally ill.[103]

Two museums are devoted to Marie Curie. In 1967, the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum was established in Warsaw's "New Town", at her birthplace on ulica Freta (Freta Street).[14] Her Paris laboratory is preserved as the Musée Curie, open since 1992.[104]

Several works of art bear her likeness. In 1935, Michalina Mościcka, wife of Polish President Ignacy Mościcki, unveiled a statue of Marie Curie before Warsaw's Radium Institute. During the 1944 Second World War Warsaw Uprising against the Nazi German occupation, the monument was damaged by gunfire; after the war it was decided to leave the bullet marks on the statue and its pedestal.[14] In 1955 Jozef Mazur created a stained glass panel of her, the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Medallion, featured in the University at Buffalo Polish Room.[105]

A number of biographies are devoted to her. In 1938 her daughter, Ève Curie, published Madame Curie. In 1987 Françoise Giroud wrote Marie Curie: A Life. In 2005 Barbara Goldsmith wrote Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie.[82] In 2011 Lauren Redniss published Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout.[106]

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon starred in the 1943 U.S. Oscar-nominated film, Madame Curie, based on her life.[68] More recently, in 1997, a French film about Pierre and Marie Curie was released, Les Palmes de M. Schutz. It was adapted from a play of the same name. In the film, Marie Curie was played by Isabelle Huppert.[107]

Curie is the subject of the play False Assumptions by Lawrence Aronovitch, in which the ghosts of three other women scientists observe events in her life.[108] Curie has also been portrayed by Susan Marie Frontczak in her play Manya: The Living History of Marie Curie, a one-woman show performed in 30 US states and nine countries, by 2014.[109]

Curie's likeness also has appeared on banknotes, stamps and coins around the world.[96] She was featured on the Polish late-1980s 20,000-złoty banknote[110] as well as on the last French 500-franc note, before the franc was replaced by the euro.[111] Curie themed postage stamps from Mali, the Republic of Togo, Zambia, and the Republic of Guinea actually show a picture of Susan Marie Frontczak portraying Curie in a 2001 picture by Paul Schroeder.[109]

On the first centenary of Marie Curie's second Nobel Prize in 2011, an allegorical mural was painted on the façade of her Warsaw birthplace. It depicts an infant Maria Skłodowska holding a test tube from which emanate the elements that she would discover as an adult: polonium and radium. Also in 2011, a new Warsaw bridge over the Vistula was named in her honor.[112]

See also


  1. ^ Polish: [ˈmarʲa salɔˈmɛa skwɔˈdɔfska]
  2. ^ Poland had been partitioned in the 18th century among Russia, Prussia and Austria, and it was Maria Skłodowska Curie's hope that naming the element after her native country would bring world attention to Poland's lack of independence as a sovereign state. Polonium may have been the first chemical element named to highlight a political question.[9]
  3. ^ Sources vary concerning the field of her second degree. Tadeusz Estreicher, in the 1938 Polski słownik biograficzny entry, writes that, while many sources state she earned a degree in mathematics, this is incorrect, and that her second degree was in chemistry.[11]


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  6. ^ See her signature, "M. Skłodowska Curie", in the infobox.
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Further reading



External links

Ahmad Motamedi

Seyyed Ahmad Motamedi (Persian: سید احمد معتمدی‎; born 1953 in Tehran) is an Iranian politician & member of Amirkabir University of Technology (Tehran Polytechnic)'s Electrical Engineering faculty. He has also been the chancellor of this university since June 2014. He was the Iranian Minister of Communication and Information Technology until August 24, 2005, and was replaced by Mohammad Soleimani.

Motamedi earned his BS in Electronics from Amirkabir University of Technology in 1978 and his MS and PhD, both in Digital Electronics and Informatics Systems, from Pierre and Marie Curie University, France, in 1980 and 1983 respectively. He has been a faculty member of the Electrical Engineering department of Amirkabir University of Technology since 1984.


The curie (symbol Ci) is a non-SI unit of radioactivity originally defined in 1910. According to a notice in Nature at the time, it was named in honour of Pierre Curie, but was considered at least by some to be in honour of Marie Curie as well.It was originally defined as "the quantity or mass of radium emanation in equilibrium with one gram of radium (element)" but is currently defined as 1 Ci = 3.7×1010 decays per second after more accurate measurements of the activity of 226Ra (which has a specific activity of 3.66×1010 Bq/g).

In 1975 the General Conference on Weights and Measures gave the becquerel (Bq), defined as one nuclear decay per second, official status as the SI unit of activity.


1 Ci = 3.7×1010 Bq = 37 GBqand

1 Bq ≅ 2.703×10−11 Ci ≅ 27 pCiWhile its continued use is discouraged by National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and other bodies, the curie is still widely used throughout the government, industry and medicine in the United States and in other countries.

At the 1910 meeting which originally defined the curie, it was proposed to make it equivalent to 10 nanograms of radium (a practical amount). But Marie Curie, after initially accepting this, changed her mind and insisted on one gram of radium. According to Bertram Boltwood, Marie Curie thought that 'the use of the name "curie" for so infinitesimally small [a] quantity of anything was altogether inappropriate.'The power in milliwatts emitted by one curie of radiation can be calculated by taking the number of MeV for the radiation times approximately 5.93.

A radiotherapy machine may have roughly 1000 Ci of a radioisotope such as caesium-137 or cobalt-60. This quantity of radioactivity can produce serious health effects with only a few minutes of close-range, unshielded exposure.

Ingesting even a millicurie is usually fatal (unless it is a very short-lived isotope). For example, the LD-50 for ingested polonium-210 is 240 μCi, about 53.5 nanograms.

The typical human body contains roughly 0.1 μCi (14 mg) of naturally occurring potassium-40. A human body containing 16 kg of carbon (see Composition of the human body) would also have about 24 nanograms or 0.1 μCi of carbon-14. Together, these would result in a total of approximately 0.2 μCi or 7400 decays per second inside the person's body (mostly from beta decay but some from gamma decay).

Curie Institute (Paris)

Institut Curie is one of the leading medical, biological and biophysical research centres in the world.

It is a private non-profit foundation operating a research center on biophysics, cell biology and oncology and a hospital specialized in treatment of cancer. It is located in Paris, France.

Irène Joliot-Curie

Irène Joliot-Curie (French: [iʁɛn ʒoljokyʁi] (listen); 12 September 1897 – 17 March 1956) was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date. Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.

Lycée Marie Curie (Sceaux)

Lycée Marie Curie is a senior high school/sixth-form college in Sceaux, Hauts-de-Seine, France, in the Paris metropolitan area. It is a part of the Cité Scolaire Marie Curie along with a junior high school (collège).

As of 2016 the lycée has about 1,200 students. Together with the junior high the entire cité scolaire has about 1,880 students.

Lycée français Marie Curie de Zurich

Lycée Français Marie Curie de Zurich (LFZ), German: französische Gymnasium) is a French international school in four campuses in Dübendorf in the Zurich metropolitan area.

As of 2012 most of the students are French nationals.

Madame Curie (film)

Madame Curie is a 1943 biographical film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sidney Franklin from a screenplay by Paul Osborn, Paul H. Rameau, and Aldous Huxley (uncredited), adapted from the biography by Ève Curie. It stars Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, with supporting performances by Robert Walker, Henry Travers, and Albert Bassermann.

The film tells the story of Polish-French physicist Marie Curie in 1890s Paris as she begins to share a laboratory with her future husband, Pierre Curie.

This was the fourth of nine onscreen pairings between Pidgeon and Garson.In several versions, much of the scientific aspects of the film were cut down or edited out entirely. Turner Classic Movies has shown it unedited at 124 minutes.

Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize

The Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize was established in 2016 by the Institute of Physics. It is named for Marie Curie-Sklodowska, a pioneer in the theory of radioactivity, discoverer of radium and polonium, and the only person to have won the Nobel Prize for both chemistry and physics. The award is for distinguished contributions to physics education and to widening participation within it and consists of a silver medal and a prize of £1000.

Marie Curie (charity)

Marie Curie is a registered charitable organisation in the United Kingdom which provides care and support to people with terminal illnesses and their families. It was established in 1948, the same year as the National Health Service.

In financial year 2014/15 the charity provided care to 40,000 terminally ill patients in the community and in its nine hospices, along with support for their families. More than 2,700 nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals help provide this care.

At the nine Marie Curie Hospices, quality of life for patients is actively promoted as is providing much needed support for their carers. Marie Curie provides the largest number of hospice beds outside the National Health Service.

Marie Curie Gargoyle

Marie Curie Gargoyle is an outdoor 1989 sculpture by Wayne Chabre, installed on the University of Oregon campus in Eugene, Oregon, in the United States. The hammered copper sheet high-relief of Marie Curie measures approximately 2.5 feet (0.76 m) x 2 feet (0.61 m) x 1.5 feet (0.46 m). It was surveyed by the Smithsonian Institution's "Save Outdoor Sculpture!" program in March 1993, though its condition was undetermined. The sculpture is administered by the University of Oregon.

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions

Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) are a set of major mobility research grants created by the European Union/European Commission to support research in the European Research Area (ERA). Established in 1996 as Marie Curie Actions and known since 2014 as Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions, the fellowship programme aims to foster the career development and further training of researchers at all career stages. These grants promote interdisciplinary research and international collaborations, supporting scientists from not only within Europe but also across the globe. MSCA fellowships are among Europe’s most competitive and prestigious awards, aimed at supporting the best and most promising scientists.MSCA is currently financed through the eighth Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (called Horizon 2020) and belongs to the so-called 'first pillar' of Horizon2020: "Excellent Science." Through this funding scheme, the Research Executive Agency (REA) has devoted over €6 billion to the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions. Since the launch of the programme in 1996, over 100,000 researchers had received MSCA grants by March 2017. To mark this milestone, the European Commission selected thirty highly-promising researchers (who achieved the highest evaluation scores in 2016) to showcase the EU's actions dedicated to excellence and worldwide mobility in research.Marie Skłodowska-Curie is the Polish-French namesake of the programme and was the first female Nobel prize winner. The only person to win a Nobel Prize for contributions in two different sciences (physics and chemistry), she was also the first — and only woman — to have been awarded a Nobel Prize twice.

Patricia Simpson

Patricia "Pat" Simpson FRS is a distinguished British developmental biologist. She is an Emeritus Professor of the Department of Zoology of the University of Cambridge, having previously been Professor of Comparative Embryology, and a Fellow of Newnham College. She was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2000.She graduated from Universite de Paris VI, Pierre and Marie Curie University.

She is distinguished for her work on development in insects. Her first major discovery was that pattern formation and growth are regulated by the same mechanism. By a study of genetic mosaics she demonstrated that cells develop into particular structures by means of local interactions with their neighbours.

She has made major contributions to the understanding of the process of lateral inhibition, whereby initially equivalent cells interact between themselves and subsequently adopt different fates.

This process involves a conserved cellular receptor and is equally important in mammals; the work can be related to studies on human development and disease.

Pierre Curie

Pierre Curie (; French: [kyʁi]; 15 May 1859 – 19 April 1906) was a French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity. In 1903, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and Henri Becquerel, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".

Pierre and Marie Curie University

Pierre and Marie Curie University (French: Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie), titled as UPMC from 2007–2017 and also known as Paris 6, was a public research university in Paris, France from 1971 to 2017. The university is located on the Jussieu Campus in the Latin Quarter of the 5th arrondissement of Paris, France.

In 2010, the Sorbonne University group of cooperating institutions was created, with UPMC as a member. UPMC merged with Paris-Sorbonne University, a fellow Sorbonne group member, into a new combined Sorbonne University on 1 January 2018.

Pierre et Marie Curie (Paris Métro)

Pierre et Marie Curie is a station on the southeast branch of Line 7 of the Paris Métro. The station, located in Ivry-sur-Seine, was opened in 1946.

It was previously known as Pierre Curie. Following a renovation completed on 31 January 2007, it was renamed to honour his wife and fellow Nobel laureate Maria Skłodowska-Curie as well on 8 March, International Women's Day. It thereby became only the third station in the Métro named for a woman that is not a saint, after Marguerite de Rochechouart and Louise Michel.

Radioactive (film)

Radioactive is an upcoming biographical film directed by Marjane Satrapi and starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie. It is based on the graphic novel by Lauren Redniss.


Radium is a chemical element with symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (rather than oxygen) on exposure to air, forming a black surface layer of radium nitride (Ra3N2). All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226, which has a half-life of 1600 years and decays into radon gas (specifically the isotope radon-222). When radium decays, ionizing radiation is a product, which can excite fluorescent chemicals and cause radioluminescence.

Radium, in the form of radium chloride, was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898. They extracted the radium compound from uraninite and published the discovery at the French Academy of Sciences five days later. Radium was isolated in its metallic state by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of radium chloride in 1911.In nature, radium is found in uranium and (to a lesser extent) thorium ores in trace amounts as small as a seventh of a gram per ton of uraninite. Radium is not necessary for living organisms, and adverse health effects are likely when it is incorporated into biochemical processes because of its radioactivity and chemical reactivity. Currently, other than its use in nuclear medicine, radium has no commercial applications; formerly, it was used as a radioactive source for radioluminescent devices and also in radioactive quackery for its supposed curative powers. Today, these former applications are no longer in vogue because radium's toxicity has since become known, and less dangerous isotopes are used instead in radioluminescent devices.

École élémentaire Marie-Curie

École élémentaire Marie-Curie is a public French first language elementary school in the neighbourhood of Oakridge in London, Ontario, Canada. It is located in the north-west end of London on Hunt Club Drive. Opened in 1972 it was originally the "London French School" and located on King Street in downtown London. The school was renamed "École Alexandra", after Princess Alexandra, but was simply known as "École". Today the school serves from junior kindergarten–6, in 1999, grades 7 and 8 were moved to École secondaire Gabriel-Dumont when the high school relocated to its present site.

In the early 1990s the then principal, Jean-Claude Imbeault, made a number of changes to the school. He changed the school colours from blue and white, to black, silver and white; had the school renamed to "École élémentaire Marie-Curie"; gave it a new logo and a motto "Savoir faire et bien faire"; and, most significantly, created a plan for a multicultural school population.

London has a very small francophone population; however, it qualifies for French language services under the French Language Services Act, and also qualifies to have French schools.

While this was the first French language elementary school in London, there are now five elementary schools (another public school and three catholic schools), two French high schools and one community centre.

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