Marie Curie


Maria Salomea Skłodowska-Curie, or Madame Curie (Warsaw, November 7, 1867-Passy, July 4, 1934), was a Polish physicist and chemist who was naturalized French. A pioneer in the field of radioactivity, she was the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes in different specialties: physics and chemistry. She was also the first woman to hold the position of professor at the University of Paris and the first to be buried with honors in the Pantheon in Paris on her own merits in 1995.

He was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Polish Tsarate (a territory administered by the Russian Empire). He studied clandestinely at the “floating university” in Warsaw and began his scientific training in that city. In 1891, at the age of 24, he followed his older sister Bronisława Dłuska to Paris, where he completed his studies and carried out his most outstanding scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and physicist Henri Becquerel. Years later, she won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry alone. Although she received French citizenship and supported her new homeland, she never lost her Polish identity: she taught her daughters her mother tongue and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element she discovered, polonium, after her country of origin.

Her achievements include the first studies on the phenomenon of radioactivity (a term she coined), techniques for the isolation of radioactive isotopes and the discovery of two elements – polonium and radium. Under her direction, the first studies on the treatment of neoplasms with radioactive isotopes were carried out. He founded the Curie Institute in Paris and Warsaw, which remain among the leading centers of medical research today. During World War I he created the first radiological centers for military use. He died in 1934 at the age of 66, at the Sancellemoz sanatorium in Passy, from aplastic anemia caused by exposure to radiation from radium test tubes that he kept in his pockets at work and in the construction of the mobile X-ray units of World War I.

She was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw (capital of the Russian partition of Poland). She was the fifth daughter of Władysław Skłodowski, a high school teacher in physics and mathematics, and Bronisława Boguska, a teacher, pianist and singer. Maria had four older siblings: Zofia (1862-1876), Józef (1863-1937), Bronisława (1865-1939) and Helena (1866-1961).

Both her father”s and mother”s families had lost their property and fortunes during the Polish nationalist uprisings in patriotic investments aimed at restoring the country”s independence. This forced the new generation – Maria, her older sisters and brother – into a difficult struggle to get ahead in life. At the time, most of Poland was occupied by the Russian Empire, which – after several violently quelled nationalist revolts – had imposed its language and customs. Together with her sister Helena, Maria attended clandestine classes offered at a boarding school where Polish culture was taught.

Her paternal grandfather, Józef Skłodowski, had been a respected teacher in Lublin, where he taught the young Bolesław Prus, who was to become a leading figure in Polish literature. Władysław Skłodowski was a teacher of mathematics and physics – disciplines in which his daughter was interested – and went on to run two boys” gymnasiums in Warsaw. When the Russian authorities abolished laboratory instruction in Polish schools, Władysław moved much of the apparatus and instruments to his home and instructed his children in their use.

Eventually, Władysław was fired by his Russian supervisors because of his Polish sentimentality and forced into low-paying positions. The family also lost money on a bad investment and had to supplement their income by overnight boarding children in the house. Maria”s mother-Bronisława-had run a prestigious boarding school for girls in Warsaw, but resigned from the position after the birth of her last daughter. She died of tuberculosis in May 1878, when Maria was ten years old. Maria”s early years were marked by the death of her sister Zofia as a result of typhus she contracted from one of the children boarding at home. Władysław was an atheist, but Bronisława was a devout Catholic; following the death of her mother and sister, Maria questioned her Catholic faith and became agnostic or, as her daughter Ève asserted, an atheist like her father Władysław.

When she was ten years old, Maria Skłodowska attended the J. Sikorska boarding school; she then transferred to a high school for girls, from which she graduated on June 12, 1883 with a gold medal. After a breakdown (possibly due to depression), she spent the following year in the countryside with her father”s relatives and in 1885 with her father in Warsaw, where she received some tutoring. She could not enroll in a regular institution of higher education because she was a woman, so together with her sister Bronisława she entered the clandestine “floating university” (Polish: Uniwersytet Latający), a patriotic institution of higher education that admitted women students.

She made an agreement with her sister Bronisława: she was to help her financially with her medical studies in Paris in exchange for similar assistance two years later. Because of this, Maria worked as a private tutor in Warsaw and – for two years – as a governess for a landed family in Szczuki, the Żorawskis, relatives of her father. While working for that family, she fell in love with one of their pupils, Kazimierz Żorawski, a future mathematician. His parents rejected the idea of his marrying a poor relative and Kazimierz could not oppose them. According to Giroud, this frustrated relationship had a strong impact on both of them.

In early 1890, Bronisława – who a few months earlier had married Kazimierz Dłuski, a Polish physician and political and social activist – invited her sister to join them in Paris.Marie did not accept the proposal because she could not afford the university tuition; it would take her a year and a half to raise the necessary funds.She was able to raise some of the money with the help of her father, who was able to secure a more lucrative position again. During this time, Maria continued to study, read books, correspond with professional relatives and educate herself. In early 1889 she returned to her father”s home in Warsaw. She continued to work as a governess and remained there until the end of 1891. She also continued studying at the “floating university” and began her practical scientific training (between 1890-1891) in a chemical laboratory of the Museum of Industry and Agriculture at 66 Krakowskie Przedmieście Street, near the historic center of Warsaw. The laboratory was run by her cousin Józef Boguski, who had worked as an assistant to the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeléyev in St. Petersburg.

At the end of 1891 she left for France. In Paris, Maria (or Marie, as she would be known in that country) spent some time in a boarding house with her sister and brother-in-law before renting a garret in the Latin Quarter, close to the university, and continued her studies in Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics at the University of Paris, where she had enrolled at the end of 1891. Although she had acquired knowledge in a self-taught way, she had to work hard to improve her understanding of the French language, mathematics and physics to keep up with her peers. Among the 776 students in the Faculty of Sciences, in January 1895, there were only 27 women. Her professors were Paul Appell, Henri Poincaré and Gabriel Lippmann, renowned scientists at the time. She subsisted on meager resources and fainted from hunger, studying during the day and teaching at night, barely earning enough to subsist. In 1893 he received his degree in physics and began working in an industrial laboratory of Professor Lippmann. In the meantime, he continued his studies at the University of Paris and obtained a second degree in 1894. To finance his university education, he accepted a scholarship from the Alexandrowitch Foundation, which was awarded to him thanks to an acquaintance named Jadwiga Dydyńska. During his stay in the French capital he developed a special interest in amateur theater (théâtre amateur). At one of the performances of La Pologne, qui brise les chaînes (lit., Poland, she who breaks chains) she became friends with the pianist Ignacy Jan Paderewski.

He began his scientific career in 1894 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). In that same year, he met Pierre Curie. The interest they both had in science brought them together. At the time, Pierre was an instructor at the Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielle de Paris (ESPCI). They were introduced by the Polish physicist Józef Kowalski-Wierusz, who had heard that Marie was looking for a laboratory with larger working space, something Kowalski-Wierusz believed Pierre had access to. Although the latter did not have a large laboratory, he was able to find a larger workplace at ESPCI for her to work in.

They developed a strong friendship in the laboratory, to the point that Pierre proposed marriage, but Marie did not accept at first as she intended to return to Poland. However, Pierre declared that he was willing to follow her to that country, even if it meant having to teach French to make ends meet.

It would be a beautiful thing, a thing I wouldn”t dare hope for, if we could spend our lives close to each other, mesmerized by our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream.

Meanwhile, Marie returned to Warsaw for the summer vacations of 1894, where she visited her family. She continued to work for a year in Poland with the illusion that she would get an academic position in her scientific specialty in her native country, but the Jagiellonian University in Krakow refused to hire her because she was a woman. A letter from Pierre convinced her to return to Paris to obtain a Ph.D. To motivate her, in the missive he commented that she had done research on magnetism, received her Ph.D. in March 1895 and was promoted to professor at the ESPCI. Back in France, Marie and Pierre were married on July 26, 1895 in Sceaux, in a simple wedding without a religious ceremony in which, among some friends and immediate family, they were given money instead of gifts. Marie wore a dark blue suit, the same one she wore for many years as laboratory attire. Some time later, Marie said that she had found a new love, partner and scientific collaborator whom she could trust.

After obtaining the second degree, her next challenge was the Ph.D. The first step was to choose the topic of her thesis. After discussion with her husband, she decided to focus on the work of physicist Henri Becquerel, who had discovered that uranium salts emitted rays of an unknown nature. This work was related to the recent discovery of X-rays by physicist Wilhelm Röntgen, although the properties behind this phenomenon were not yet understood. In the spring of 1895, Becquerel accidentally discovered the ability of the double sulfate of uranyl potassium (chemical formula: K2(H2O)2) to blacken a photographic plate and showed that such radiation, unlike phosphorescence, did not depend on an external source of energy, but seemed to arise spontaneously from the uranium itself. Influenced by these two important discoveries, she chose uranium rays as a possible field of research for a thesis and with the help of her husband investigated the nature of the radiation produced by uranium salts. She initially intended to quantify the ionization capacity emanating from the radiation of uranium salts and took as a basis the laboratory notes of Lord Kelvin at the end of 1897.

For the experiments she used a technique created fifteen years earlier by Pierre and his brother Jacques Curie, who had developed a modified version of the electrometer. Using this apparatus, Marie Curie discovered that uranium rays cause the air around a sample to conduct electricity. Using this technique, her first result was that the activity of uranium compounds depended only on the amount of uranium present. He hypothesized that this radiation was not the result of an interaction of molecules, but came from the atom itself. This hypothesis was an important breakthrough in refuting the old assumption that atoms are indivisible.

In 1897, his daughter Irène was born. To support her family she began teaching at the Ecole Normale Supérieure.The Curies had no laboratory of their own and most of their research was conducted in a shed owned by the ESPCI.This room, formerly a medical dissection room of the faculty, was poorly ventilated and not waterproof.They were unaware of the harmful effects of continuous exposure to radiation in their ongoing work with substances without any protection, since at that time no diseases had been associated with radiation. The faculty did not sponsor their research, but they received grants from metallurgical and mining companies and various foreign organizations and governments.

Marie Curie”s systematic studies included some uranium-bearing minerals (pitchblende, torbernite or autunite). Her electrometer showed that pitchblende was four times more radioactive than uranium itself, but torbernite had a reading twice as high. Looking at the chemical composition of torbernite -Cu(Marie Curie decided to use natural torbernite instead of the artificial one that was available in the laboratory and recorded that the synthetic sample of the mineral emitted less radiation. She concluded that, if her earlier results that the amount of uranium was related to its radioactivity were correct, these two minerals would contain small amounts of other substances much more radioactive than uranium. She undertook a systematic search for additional radiation-emitting substances and around 1898 discovered that thorium was also radioactive.

Pierre became increasingly concerned about his overwork. In mid-1898 they took a break to spend more time together: According to historian Robert William Reid.

La idea de la investigación fue suya; nadie le ayudó a formularla, y aunque se la llevó a su marido para que le diera su opinión, estableció claramente su propiedad. Más tarde, lo hizo constar dos veces en la biografía de su marido para que no hubiera ninguna posibilidad de ambigüedad. Es probable que ya en esta etapa temprana de su carrera a muchos científicos les resultara difícil creer que una mujer pudiera ser capaz del trabajo original en el que estaba involucrada.La idea era de ella; nadie la ayudó a formularla y, aunque ella lo consultó con su marido, a su juicio ella se apropió claramente de la investigación. Más tarde, registró ese hecho dos veces en la biografía de su marido para asegurarse de que no había ninguna posibilidad de cualquier ambigüedad. Es probable que en esta primera etapa de su carrera, a muchos científicos les resultaba difícil creer que una mujer podía ser capaz de una obra tan original como en la que estaba involucrada.

He was aware of the importance of quickly publishing his discoveries and taking place in the scientific community. For example, two years earlier, Becquerel presented his finding to the Academy of Sciences one day after the experiment and took full credit for the discovery of radioactivity, even receiving a Nobel Prize that would have gone to Silvanus Thompson, who had done a similar study that he did not publish in time. Following in Becquerel”s footsteps, he wrote a brief and simple explanation of his work; the paper was submitted to the Academy on April 12, 1898, by his former professor, Gabriel Lippmann, on behalf of Marie Curie. However, like Thompson, she suffered a setback in her career when she learned that her work on the radioactive emission of thorium similar to that of uranium had been published by Gerhard Carl Schmidt, two months earlier, in the German Physical Society.

At the time, none of her colleagues had seen that Marie Curie”s paper described the radioactivity of pitchblende and torbernite as being superior to uranium: “The fact is very remarkable and gives rise to the belief that these minerals may contain some element which is much more active than uranium”. He later recalled that he felt a “passionate desire to verify this hypothesis as quickly as possible. On April 14, 1898, the Curies weighed a 100-g sample of pitchblende and ground it with a mortar and pestle. At the time, they did not realize that what they were looking for was only present in such minute quantities that they would eventually have to process tons of the mineral. They also developed a method of radioactive indicators with which they would identify the radiation capacity of a new element.

In July 1898, the couple jointly published an article announcing the existence of an element they named “polonium”, in honor of Poland – a country that at the time was divided between three empires. In the fall of 1898, Marie suffered from inflammation of her fingertips, the first known symptoms of the lightning disease that would accompany her for the rest of her life. After a summer vacation in the Auvergne region, on November 11, the couple resumed their search for another unknown element. With the help of Gustave Bémont, they quickly managed to obtain a sample with a radioactivity 900 times greater than that of uranium. On December 26, 1898, the Curies announced the existence of a second element, which they called “radium,” derived from a Latin word meaning lightning. The word “radioactivity” was coined in the research.

To definitively prove their discoveries, the Curies tried to isolate polonium and radium in their purest form. They decided not to use pitchblende because it is a complex mineral and the chemical separation of its components was an arduous task. Instead they used a bismuth and a barium ore with high levels of radiation. In the first ore they observed that an unknown element was chemically similar to bismuth, but had radioactive properties (polonium). However, radium was more difficult to obtain: its chemical relationship with barium is very strong, and they discovered that pitchblende contains both elements in small amounts. In 1898, the Curies obtained traces of radium, but it was still beyond their reach to extract considerable quantities without contamination with barium. They undertook the work of separating the radium salt by differential crystallization; from one ton of pitchblende, they separated one decigram of radium chloride in 1902 and, with that material, Marie Curie was able to determine the atomic mass more precisely. They also studied the radiation emitted by the two elements and indicated, among other things, that they have a radioactive glow, that radium salts emit heat, have a color similar to porcelain and glass, and that the radiation produced passes through the air and the body until it converts molecular oxygen (O2) into ozone (O3).

In 1910, the Curies isolated radium in its pure state, but were unsuccessful with polonium because that element has a half-life of 138 days. Between 1898 and 1902, the Curies published jointly or separately a total of 32 scientific papers, including one announcing that when humans are exposed to radium, diseased and tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells. In 1900, Marie Curie was the first woman to be appointed professor at the Ecole Normale Supérieure and her husband received a professorship at the University of Paris. In 1902, Władysław died and his daughter returned to Poland for the burial.

The French Academy of Sciences financially supported Marie Curie”s work. On two occasions (in 1900 and 1902) she was awarded the prix Gegner In 1903 she received 10 000 francs for the prix La Caze. In March 1902, the Academy extended her radium research with a loan of 20 000 francs. On June 25, 1903, Marie Curie defended her doctoral thesis (Investigations on radioactive substances) directed by Becquerel before an examining board chaired by Lippmann. She obtained the doctorate and was awarded cum laude. That month, the Curies were invited by the Royal Institution of Great Britain to give a speech on radioactivity, but she was prevented from speaking because she was a woman and only her husband was allowed to speak. The following year, Marie Curie”s dissertation was translated into five languages and reprinted seventeen times, including an edited version by William Crookes published in Chemical News and Annales de physique et chimie. In the meantime, a new industry based on the element radium began to develop. The Curies did not patent their discovery and derived little economic benefit from this increasingly profitable business.

From 1903 onwards the couple began to suffer from their first health problems, but the doctors only kept them under observation. On November 5, 1903, the Royal Society of London awarded the couple the Davy Medal, given annually for the most important discovery in the field of chemistry. Pierre traveled alone to London to receive the award.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Marie Curie the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, along with her husband and Henri Becquerel, “in recognition of the extraordinary services rendered in their joint research on the radiation phenomena discovered by Henri Becquerel. She was the first woman to receive such an award. At first, the selection committee intended to honor only Pierre and Henri, denying recognition to Marie because she was a woman. One of the Academy members, mathematician Magnus Gösta Mittag-Leffler, alerted Pierre to the situation and Pierre said he would refuse the Nobel Prize if Marie”s work was not also recognized. In response to the complaint, she was included in the nomination.

The Curies did not go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person, as they were too busy with their work and because Pierre, who disliked public ceremonies, was feeling increasingly ill. Because Nobel Prize winners were required to be present to give a speech, the Curies finally traveled to Sweden in 1905. They received $15,000, which enabled them to hire a new laboratory assistant. After the Swedish award, the University of Geneva offered Pierre a professorship with better pay, but the University of Paris was quick to grant him a professorship and the Chair of Physics (where he had already been teaching since 1900), although the couple still did not have a proper laboratory. After Pierre”s complaints, the university relented and agreed to give them a new laboratory, but it would not be ready until 1906. The Laureates made headlines in the French press, but – according to Susan Quinn – Marie”s role in radium research was greatly underestimated or tended to be overlooked because of her Polish origin.

In December 1904, Marie Curie gave birth to her second daughter, Ève, after suffering a miscarriage probably caused by radioactivity. Years later, she hired Polish governesses to teach her daughters their mother tongue and sent them (or took them with her) on visits to Poland.

On April 19, 1906, Pierre died in an accident in Paris. While walking in the pouring rain along rue Dauphine (in Saint-Germain-des-Prés), he was hit by a horse-drawn carriage and fell under the wheels, resulting in a fatal skull fracture. but she wanted to continue her late husband”s work and refused a life pension. In the following years she suffered from depression and relied on Pierre”s father and brother (Eugene and Jacques Curie, respectively). On May 13, 1906, the Physics Department of the University of Paris decided to offer her the position that had been created for her husband. She accepted it in the hope of creating a world-class laboratory as a tribute to her husband. She was the first woman to hold the position of professor at that university and the first director of a laboratory at that institution. Between 1906 and 1934, the university admitted 45 women without applying the previous gender restrictions on their hiring.

Her desire to create a new laboratory did not stop there. In her later years, she directed the Radium Institute (now the Curie Institute), a radioactivity laboratory created for her by the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris. The initiative for its creation came in 1909 when Émile Roux, director of the Pasteur Institute, expressed his disappointment that the University of Paris was not providing Marie Curie with a suitable laboratory and suggested that she move to the Pasteur Institute. Only thus, with a possible departure of one of her professors, did the university council agree and eventually the “Curie Pavilion” became a joint initiative of the two institutions concerned. In 1910, assisted by the chemist André-Louis Debierne, she was able to obtain a gram of pure radium; she also defined an international standard for radioactive emissions which, years later, was named Curie in her honor.

In 1911, the French Academy of Sciences discussed whether Curie would fill the seat of the late Désiré Gernez (1834-1910), but did not elect her as a member for one At that time, Curie was already a member of the Swedish (1910), Czech (1909) and Polish (1909) Academies of Sciences, the American Philosophical Society (1910) and the Imperial Academy of St. Petersburg (1908), and an honorary member of many other scientific associations. In an extensive article in the newspaper Le Temps, published on December 31, 1910, Jean Gaston Darboux – the secretary of the Academy – publicly defended Marie Curie”s candidacy. During the Academy elections, she was defamed by the right-wing press that criticized her for being a woman, a foreigner and an atheist. According to Susan Quinn, at the plenary session of the Institut de France on January 4, 1911, the Council members stuck to the tradition of not allowing female members and revalidated the decision with a majority of 85 votes against over 60 in favor. Five days later, in a secret meeting, a committee was created to handle nominations for the vacant seat: they admitted Édouard Branly, an inventor who had assisted Guglielmo Marconi in the development of wireless telegraphy. The socialist newspaper L”Humanité branded the Academy a “misogynist institution”; for its part, the conservative Le Figaro wrote that it was “to turn women into men at once!” More than half a century later, in 1962, a doctoral student at the Curie Institute, Marguerite Perey, became the first woman to be elected as a member of the French Academy of Sciences. Although she was a scientist famous for her work on behalf of France, the public”s attitude toward Marie Curie tended toward xenophobia – the same as had happened during the Dreyfus affair, as she was rumored to be Jewish. Later, her daughter Irène commented that the public hypocrisy of the French press portrayed her mother as an unworthy foreigner who was nominated for a French honor instead of someone from another country receiving the Nobel Prize on behalf of France.

In 1911 the press revealed that, between 1910-1911 – after her husband”s death – Marie Curie had had a brief affair with physicist Paul Langevin, a former student of Pierre”s who was married, although he had separated from his wife months earlier. Curie and Langevin were meeting in a rented apartment. Langevin”s wife soon found out and threatened Marie”s life. At Easter 1911, Marie Curie and Paul Langevin”s correspondence was stolen and, in August of that year, Langevin”s wife filed for divorce and sued her husband for having “sexual relations with a concubine in the marital home.” This led to a newspaper scandal that was exploited by his academic adversaries. Curie (who was in her early 40s at the time) was five years older than Langevin and was labeled a “foreign Jewish home-wrecker” in the tabloids. When the scandal broke, Marie Curie was at a conference in Belgium; on her return, she encountered an angry mob in front of her house and had to take refuge, with her daughters, at the home of her friend Camille Marbo.

On the other hand, international recognition for her work had grown much more and the Swedish Academy of Sciences, which omitted the Langevin scandal from the voting, awarded her the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (alone). This prize was “in recognition of her services in the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this element”. She was the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes. The French press barely covered the event. A delegation of renowned Polish scholars, led by the novelist Henryk Sienkiewicz, encouraged her to return to Poland and continue her research in her native country. This second award enabled her to convince the French government to support the Radium Institute, completed in 1914, where research in chemistry, physics and medicine would be carried out. A month after accepting the award, she was hospitalized for depression and a kidney ailment and underwent surgery. For most of 1912 she avoided public appearances. She traveled with her daughters under pseudonyms and asked friends and relatives to withhold information about her whereabouts. She spent time in England with a friend and colleague, physicist Hertha Marks Ayrton. She returned to her laboratory in December after a break of about 14 months.

In 1912, the Warsaw Scientific Society offered her the position of director of a new laboratory in that city, but she declined the position on the grounds that the Radium Institute should be completed in August 1914 and in the newly named rue Pierre Curie. In 1913, her health improved and she was able to explore the properties of radium radiation at low temperatures with the physicist Heike Kamerlingh Onnes. In March of that year, he was visited by Albert Einstein, with whom he went on a summer excursion in the Swiss Engadine. In October, he participated in the second Solvay Congress and, in November, he traveled to Warsaw, but the visit was underestimated by the Russian authorities. The progress of the Institute was interrupted by World War I because most of the researchers enlisted in the French army; activities resumed fully in 1919.

On August 1, 1914, days after the outbreak of World War I, Irène (17 years old) and Ève (10) had moved to L”Arcouest (Ploubazlanec) under the care of some friends of her mother. Marie remained in Paris guarding the Institute and the radium samples. The Government considered that the assets of the Radium Institute were a national treasure and should be protected, so Curie temporarily moved the laboratory to Bordeaux. She was unable to serve Poland and decided to collaborate with France.

During the war, field hospitals lacked experienced personnel and proper X-ray machines, so he proposed the use of mobile radiography near the front lines to assist battlefield surgeons. He ensured that wounded soldiers would be better cared for if surgeons had radiographic films in time. After a quick study of radiology, anatomy and automotive mechanics, she acquired X-ray equipment, vehicles and auxiliary generators and designed mobile radiography units, which she called “radiological ambulances” (ambulances radiologiques), but which became known later as the “little Curie” (petit Curie). She became the director of the Radiology Service of the French Red Cross and created the first military radiology center in France, operational at the end of 1914. Assisted from the beginning by her daughter Irène (18 years old) and a military doctor, she directed the installation of twenty mobile radiography units and two hundred other radiological units in the provisional hospitals in the first year of the war. Later, she began to instruct other women as assistants. In July 1916, she was one of the first women to obtain a driver”s license, as she applied for it to personally drive the mobile X-ray units.

In 1915, she produced cannulas containing “radium emanations,” a colorless, radioactive gas emitted by that element – later identified as radon – and used for sterilization of infected tissues. She provided the chemical element from her own supplies. It is estimated that over a million wounded soldiers were treated with her X-ray units. Busy with this work, she did little scientific research during this period. Despite her humanitarian contributions to the French war effort, she never received formal recognition from the French government during her lifetime.

Immediately after the outbreak of the war, he tried to sell his Nobel gold medals and donate them to the war effort, but the Bank of France refused to accept them, so he had to buy war bonds with the money from his prizes. At the time he said: “I will give up the little gold I own. To this I will add the scientific medals, which are useless to me. There is something else: out of sheer laziness I had allowed my second Nobel prize money to stay in Stockholm in Swedish kronor. That is the main amount of what we own. I would like to bring it here and invest it in war loans. The state needs it. Only I have no illusions: that money will probably be lost.” He was also an active member of committees devoted to the Polish cause in France. After the war, he summarized his experiences in a book entitled La radiologie et la guerre (1919).

In 1920, on the 25th anniversary of the discovery of radium, the French Government benefited Marie Curie with a stipend that had previously been in the name of Louis Pasteur (1822-1895). In 1921 she planned a fundraising trip to the United States for radium research. The Institute”s inventories had been drastically reduced as a result of therapeutic treatments in World War I, and the quoted price of a gram of radium at that time was US$100,000. On May 4, 1921, Marie Curie traveled with her two daughters and accompanied by journalist Marie Melony aboard the RMS Olympic. Seven days later, they arrived in New York City, where she was greeted by a large crowd. Upon her arrival, the New York Times published on its front page that Madame Curie intended to “put an end to cancer.” “Radium is the cure for any kind of cancer,” she stated on page 22 of that newspaper. During her stay, the press put her character as a scientist on the back burner and, instead, she was regularly extolled as a “healer”; Marie Curie also made many public appearances with her daughters. The purpose of that trip was to raise funds for radium research. Editor Mrs. William Brown Meloney, after interviewing her, created the Marie Curie Radium Fund and raised enough money with travel publicity to buy the chemical element.

In 1921, President Warren G. Harding received her at the White House and symbolically presented her with a gram of radium collected in the U.S. Prior to the meeting, recognition had grown abroad, but was overshadowed by the fact that she had no official French distinctions to wear in public. The French government had offered her the Legion of Honor, but she did not accept. The French government had offered her the Legion of Honor, but she did not accept it. In the United States she received nine honorary doctorates, although she refused one in the field of physics that Harvard University offered her because “she had done nothing important Before boarding the RMS Olympic on June 25 on her return to Europe, she said, “My work with radium, especially during the war, seriously damaged my health, making it impossible for me to visit all the laboratories and colleges in which I had a deep interest.” In October 1929, she visited the United States for the second time. During this stay, President Herbert Hoover presented him with a check for 50,000 dollars, which was destined for the purchase of radium for the Institute”s branch in Warsaw. He also traveled to other countries giving lectures in Belgium, Brazil, Spain and Czechoslovakia.

Four members of the Radium Institute received the Nobel Prize, among them Irène Joliot-Curie and her husband, Frédéric. It eventually became one of the four major laboratories for radioactivity research, along with Ernest Rutherford”s Cavendish Laboratories, Stefan Meyer”s Institute for Radium Research (in Vienna) and Otto Hahn and Lise Meitner”s Emperor Wilhelm Institute of Chemistry.

In August 1922, Marie Curie became a constituent member of the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations.That year, she became a member of the French National Academy of Medicine.In 1923, she published a biography of her late husband, entitled Pierre Curie.In 1925, she visited Poland to participate in the groundbreaking ceremony for the Radium Institute in Warsaw.The Institute was equipped with radium samples acquired on her second trip to the United States. The laboratory was equipped with radium samples acquired on her second trip to the U.S. The Institute opened in 1932 and Bronisława Dłuska was appointed director. These distractions from her scientific labors and the publicity surrounding her caused her much discomfort, but provided the necessary resources for her work. From 1930 until her death, she was a member of the International Committee on Atomic Weights of IUPAC.

Only a few months after her last visit to Poland in the spring of 1934, she died on July 4 at the Sancellemoz sanatorium, near Passy (Haute Savoie), of aplastic anemia, probably contracted from the radiation to which she was exposed in her work. The harmful effects of ionizing radiation were not known at the time and the experiments were carried out without the appropriate safety measures. For example, she carried test tubes with radioactive isotopes in her pockets and stored them in a drawer in her desk, as she commented on the faint light these substances emitted in the dark. She was also exposed unprotected to X-rays while working as a radiologist in field hospitals during the war. Although the long periods of exposure to radiation caused her chronic illnesses (such as partial blindness due to cataracts) and eventually her death, she never recognized the health risks that radiation exposure could cause.

She was buried next to her late husband in the cemetery of Sceaux, a few kilometers south of Paris. Sixty years later, in 1995, her remains were transferred, along with those of Pierre, to the Pantheon in Paris. On April 20, 1995, in a speech delivered at the solemn induction ceremony, then President François Mitterrand emphasized that Marie Curie, who had been the first Doctor of Science, a professor at the Sorbonne and also received two Nobel prizes, was so again by resting in the famous Paris Pantheon on “her own merits.” In 2015, two other women were also buried in the cemetery on their own merits.

Because of radioactive contamination, his papers from the 1890s are considered too dangerous to handle; even his cookbook is highly radioactive. His papers are kept in lead-lined boxes and those wishing to consult them must wear protective clothing. In the last year of his life he worked on a book (Radioactivité), which his daughter and son-in-law published posthumously in 1935.

Their eldest daughter, Irène (1897-1956), won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry (one year after her mother”s death) with her husband, for the discovery of artificial radioactivity. The second daughter of the couple, Ève Denise Julie (1904-2007), journalist, pianist and activist for children”s rights, was the only member of the family who did not devote herself to science. She wrote a biography of her mother (Madame Curie), which was published simultaneously in France, England, Italy, Spain, the United States and other countries in 1937; it was a bestseller in those countries. The journalist Charles Poore, in a review published in the New York Times, criticized Madame Curie for its sweetened writing, omission of important details such as Marie”s relationship -then widowed- with Paul Langevin -former student of her husband and who was married- or the many problems and insults she had to endure from some important French scientific circles -such as the rejection of her admission to the French Academy of Sciences- and the sensationalist press.

Historian Tadeusz Estreicher, in Polski słownik biograficzny (1938), asserts that the physical and social aspects of the Curies” work contributed substantially to world development in the 20th and 21st centuries. Leslie Pearce Williams, a professor at Cornell University, concludes that.

El resultado del trabajo de los Curie marcó una época. La radiactividad del radio era tan grande que no podía ser ignorada. Parecía contradecir el principio de conservación de la energía y, por tanto, obligaba a reconsiderar los fundamentos de la física. En el plano experimental, el descubrimiento del radio proporcionó a hombres como Ernest Rutherford fuentes de radiactividad con las que podían sondear la estructura del átomo. Gracias a los experimentos de Rutherford con la radiación alfa, se postuló por primera vez el átomo nuclear. En medicina, la radiactividad del radio parecía ofrecer un medio para atacar con éxito el cáncer.El resultado del trabajo de los Curie fue una época de transformaciones. La radiactividad del radio era tan grande que no podía ser ignorada. Parecía contradecir el principio de la conservación de la energía y, por tanto, obligó a un replanteamiento de los fundamentos de la física. A nivel experimental, el descubrimiento del radio aportó a hombres como Ernest Rutherford las fuentes de radiactividad con las que comprobaron la estructura del átomo. Como resultado de los experimentos de Rutherford con radiación alfa, el núcleo atómico se postuló primero. En la medicina, la radiactividad del radio parecía ofrecer un medio con el que el cáncer podría ser atacado con éxito.

Françoise Giroud believes that while Curie”s work helped revise established ideas in physics and chemistry, it also had an equally profound effect on the social sphere. To achieve her scientific accomplishments, Marie Curie had to overcome the obstacles she encountered in her path as a woman, both in her native country and in her new homeland. Giroud emphasizes that aspect of her life and career in Marie Curie: A Life, in which he discusses her role as a feminist trailblazer. Although the women”s rights movement in Poland praised Marie Curie”s work, historian Natalie Stegmann asserts that she did not engage with these groups or support their goals.

According to Estreicher, she was known for her honesty and moderate lifestyle.After receiving a small scholarship in 1893, she returned to Poland in 1897, when she could already earn money for her subsistence.She allocated much of the money from her first Nobel Prize to her friends, family, students and research associates.In an unusual decision, she intentionally refrained from patenting the process of isolating radium, so the scientific community could research it without hindrance. Estreicher claims that Marie Curie insisted that monetary donations and prizes should be given to the scientific institutions with which she was affiliated rather than to herself. The Curies were in the habit of refusing awards and medals, as was the case with the Legion of Honor. Albert Einstein commented that Marie Curie was probably “the only scientist who was not corrupted by fame.”

Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, the only woman to win them in two areas, and to win them in scientific areas.Among the prizes she received are:

He received numerous honorary degrees from universities around the world. In Poland, she received honorary doctorates from the National Polytechnic University in Lviv (1912), the University of Poznań (1922), the Jagiellonian University (1924) and the Warsaw Polytechnic (1926). In 1920 she became the first woman member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters. In 1921, in the United States, she was granted membership in the society of women scientists Iota Sigma Pi. In 1924 she became an honorary member of the Polish Chemical Society. Marie Curie”s 1898 publication with her husband and collaborator Gustave Bémont of their discovery of radium and polonium was honored with the Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award from the Division of History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society presented to the ESPCI in Paris in 2015.

Among the entities that have been named in his honor are:

In 1935, Michalina Mościcka – wife of Polish President Ignacy Mościcki – unveiled a statue of Marie Curie in front of the Radium Institute in Warsaw. In 1944, during the Warsaw uprising against the occupation of Nazi Germany, the monument was damaged by gunfire; after the war it was decided to leave bullet marks on the statue and its pedestal. Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon starred in the film, Madame Curie, based on her life. The film had seven 1943 Oscar nominations. In 1997, a French film about Pierre and Marie Curie, Les Palmes de M. Schutz, was released as an adaptation of a play of the same name and starred Isabelle Huppert as the title character. In 2016 French director Marie Noëlle directed a biopic (Marie Curie, starring Karolina Gruszka), which moves away from the purely scientific profile of Marie Curie to dramatize the scandal of her relationship with Paul Langevin. 2020 saw the release of the biopic Radioactive, directed by French-Iranian filmmaker Marjane Satrapi.


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  2. Marie Curie