Marie Curie was born, Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867. She grew up in Warsaw, Poland. She would become famous for her research on radioactivity. Marie Curie was the first woman to ever win a Nobel prize, and the first ever to win two Nobel prizes. She is most famous for the discovery of Radium and Polonium. Her work not only influenced the development of fundamental science, but also began a new era in medical research and treatment. Maria was the last of five children. Her oldest sister died of Typhus, one sister became a teacher and a brother and a sister both became physicians.
Her family was not very rich, but education was highly valued by the Sklodowska family. Maria’s life was never very easy, and it got worse after her mother died of Tuberculosis when Maria was only 11. Maria was the star pupil of her class, and graduated High School at the age of 15. Maria began her studies at a “floating” university. It was an illegal school, held at night. It was called floating, because classes always met at different places. Maria realized that this university was not providing her with the education she desired, however she did get a taste of progressive thought and an introduction to new developments in the sciences.
Maria enrolled at Sorbonne in 1891. She then changed her name to the French form of Maria, Marie. In Paris, Marie studied mathematics, chemistry, and physics. Marie was correct about her assumption that the floating university did not provide her with all that she needed. Marie studied very hard, and received her master’s degree in physics in 1893, and her master’s degree in math the following year. Money was a problem for Marie, but the university was her abilities and helped her out. When searching for lab space in 1894, Marie came across Pierre Curie.
He was the laboratory chief at the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry. The meeting of Pierre and Marie would not only change their individual lives, but also the course of Science. While conducting experiments, Marie was permitted to use a dark, damp storeroom for her lab. While conducting these experiments, she made a hypothesis. Her hypothesis was this: The emission of rays from Uranium compounds could be an atomic property of the element Uranium-something built into the very structure of the atoms. During Marie’s time, the atom was thought to be the smallest particle in existence.
At first, Marie and Pierre Curie believed that perhaps the atom was covered with cosmic rays. Marie tested numerous elements to find if other ones than Uranium would make the air conduct electricity better. Pierre was so interested in Marie’s work, that he joined forces with her. Her research had revealed that two uranium ores, pitchblende and chalcolite were much more radioactive that pure uranium. Marie concluded that the highly radioactive nature of these ores may possibly be due to undiscovered elements. In July of 1898, Marie and Pierre Cure discovered Polonium.
They named the element after Marie’s birth country, Poland. Chemically, this new element was very similar to bismuth, but it contained radioactivity, so it must be new. In December of 1898, the Curie’s discovered yet another element. They named this one radium, from the Latin word for ray. The two new elements had completely different chemical properties, but they both had very strong radioactivity. It was not easy for Marie and Pierre to convince the science community of their new findings. Marie succeeded in separating the radium from the barium, but it wasn’t easy.
She had to treat very large amounts of pitchblende, but she had plenty of pitchblende to use. (The Curie’s received a large donation of it from the Austrian government who had been throwing it away, with hopes the Curies could find a use for it. ) Finally, the elements were proven to be real elements, and they were added to the Periodical Table of Elements. While giving speeches about their new discoveries, the Curies began to get sick from the radiation they were receiving. However, they overcame it, and continued to speak. In August of 1903, Marie suffered a miscarriage.
Pierre’s health steadily decreased, and sometimes he would remain in bed for days in pain. In 1903, the French Academy of Sciences nominated Pierre for the Nobel Prize. Marie was almost denied for all her hard work, if it hadn’t been for Magnus Goesta. He informed the committee of all that she had done, and she was taken into consideration. In the same year, the Curies were awarded the Nobel prize for Physics together. However, both the Curies were to sick to attend the awards ceremony. Many good things came along with the Nobel Prize. The prize money was very helpful.
Pierre’s achievements were finally acknowledged, and he was allowed to become a professor at Sorbonne. Marie acquired a title for the first time in her life. Also, the family received a lot of publicity, which was not always pleasant experience for the Curies. By the Spring of 1906, Marie and Pierre had two daughters. Their names were Irene, who was eight, and Eve who was a little over a year. The couple was back to studying the rays of their two elements, to study exactly how many rays were emitted. Sadly, Pierre would never get to see these results.
On April 19, 1906, Pierre was killed instantly while crossing a Paris street in the rain, and getting struck by a horse-drawn wagon weighing six tons. Pierre’s death spread around the world, and Marie received letters and telegrams of sympathy. Marie went on with the work though, remembering a quote from her late husband, “Deprived of him, I ought to continue my work. ” Because of Pierre’s death, Sorbonne offered his professorship to Marie. Marie accepted, and became the first woman to teach at this highly thought of university.
She taught there for about thirty years. In 1920, Marie Curie and some of her colleagues created the Curie Foundation, whose mission was to provide both the scientific and medical divisions of the Radium Institute with adequate resources. Over the next two decades, the Curie Foundation became a major international force in the treatment of cancer. On July 4, 1934, Madam Curie died of Leukemia at the age of 67. The cause of her leukemia is thought to be the tremendous amount of time she spent with radiation throughout her life.