Marie Curie (1867-1934) was a renowned physicist and chemist. Her pioneering work in radioactivity brought her fame, yet also inevitably caused her death. She was honored twice with the Nobel Prize, and became the first female professor to teach at the University of Paris.
Marie was born in Poland, the youngest of five children of two schoolteachers. She was a dedicated student who often preferred study over food and sleep. She graduated at age 16, at the top of her class. However, she was refused admission to university, and accepted work as a teacher and governess. At age 24, Marie moved to Paris.
She attended the University of Paris, studying physics, mathematics, and chemistry. She pursued her education with the same intensity as before, and became the first woman in France to receive a doctorate degree.
During her time at the University of Paris, she met and married Pierre Curie. Together they studied radioactivity, particularly uranium. Together, they discovered two new elements — polonium and radium. Pierre, Marie, and an associate received the Nobel Prize in physics in 1903 for this work.
In 1911, in Marie received the Nobel Prize in chemistry for her discovery of radium and polonium. While she could have patented the process used to isolate radium, she decided against that. She wanted the scientific community to work unhindered, and gave them the tools to do that. A month after receiving this award, she was hospitalized.
Marie Curie was not only the first woman to receive a Nobel prize, she became the first person to win two Nobel prizes. Linus Pauling is the only other to receive a Nobel prize in two different fields (peace and chemistry). Despite her fame and intelligence, the French Academy of Sciences refused to accept her as a member – only men were permitted.
In 1906, Pierre was killed while crossing the street. Marie was devastated.
During World War I, Marie encouraged the Army to use mobile radiography units to treat wounded soldiers. Not only did Curie provide the tubes of radium, she also donated the gold Nobel Prize medals to the war effort.
Over many years, Marie continued to work with radioactivity. In 1934, she died from aplastic anemia, a result of radiation exposure. At this time, the danger of radiation was not completely understood, and she had worked with it for decades unprotected. She was interred near her husband; in 1995, the remains of both Pierre and Marie were moved to Paris’ Pantheon.
Irene Joliot-Curie, the eldest daughter of Pierre and Marie, won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935; Eve, the younger daughter, wrote her mother’s biography after Marie passed away.