Marie Curie (Physicist and a Chemist): Biography of the woman with two Nobel Prizes

Marie curie

Who is Marie Curie?

Maria Sklodowska (Marie Curie) was born in Poland on November 7, 1867. As a child, Maria was a very good student. But she could not go to university, which was forbidden to girls at that time. At the age of 24, she then left to study in Paris… And graduated in physics and mathematics from the University of the Sorbonne in Paris – France. Then she meets Pierre Curie, also a physicist. Amazed by this talented woman, he asks her to marry him.

A radioactivity expert

Together, the couple studies radioactivity. A word they coined to describe radiation from uranium, a mineral mined from the ground. Marie discovers two highly radioactive chemical elements: radium and polonium. For this discovery and her work on radioactivity, she received two Nobel Prizes: one in physics, the other in chemistry.

When Pierre dies, Marie resumes her position. She is the first female teacher at the Sorbonne! Thanks to the discovery of radioactivity, great progress was made in the fields of energy and medicine. And, during the First World War, “ small curies ”, radiological ambulances, saved thousands of soldiers. Marie Curie falls ill from too much exposure to radiation and dies at the age of 66. She will have been an example for her two daughters, who shone in their studies, and remains a model for all those who have dreams of science!


November 7, 1867: Birth in Warsaw of Maria Sklodowska

Maria Sklodowska, future Marie Curie, was born in Warsaw, Poland. Her father and mother are both teachers. Marie Curie’s childhood will be marked by financial problems and the deaths of her sister and mother.
May 9, 1878: Maria Sklodowska loses her mother
Shortly after the death of one of her sisters, Maria Sklodowska lost her mother to tuberculosis.
1891: Maria Sklodowska moves to Paris
For several years, Maria Sklodowska has held a teaching position in Poland, in order to finance the medical studies of her sister, Bronia. Now married, the latter invites Maria to join her in Paris, in order to help her in turn. No sooner had Maria set foot in the French capital than she enrolled at the Sorbonne.
July 1893: She received her first degree in physics
July 1894: She obtains a degree in mathematics

July 25, 1895: Marie Sklodowska marries Pierre Curie

Maria Sklodowska now bears the name of Marie Curie. She had met her husband the previous year. Both had immediately shared their passion for science, and more specifically for physics. Indeed, Pierre Curie, then a teacher at the School of Physics and Industrial Chemistry in Paris, had carried out important work on crystallography and magnetism.

September 12, 1897: Birth of Irène Curie

Marie Curie gives birth to her first child, Irène. She passed on her passion for science to her and worked with her on radioactive phenomena, notably at the Radium Institute. Later, in the company of her husband Frédéric Joliot, Irène Joliot-Curie would follow in the footsteps of her parents by discovering artificial radioactivity in 1934. Like her mother, she would receive the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

July 18, 1898: Pierre and Marie Curie discover polonium

Carrying out research on a uranium-rich ore called Pitchblende, the couple managed to extract a first radioactive element: polonium, named by Marie Curie in homage to her native country, Poland. In December, they will announce the discovery of another, even more radioactive element: radium.

December 26, 1898: Pierre and Marie Curie discover radium

In front of the audience at the Academy of Sciences, Pierre and Marie Curie, in collaboration with Gustave Bémont, announce that they have succeeded in extracting a radioactive element from pitchblende: radium.

They point out that the radioactivity given off by radium is significantly higher than that of polonium, which they had also discovered in July.

The Curie spouses will receive the Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel in 1903 for their studies on the radiation emitted spontaneously by uranium salts and for the discovery of active minerals. However, it was not until 1910 that Marie Curie succeeded in isolating this substance in its pure state.

June 25, 1903: Marie Curie defends her thesis on radioactivity

After several years of work and very important discoveries, Marie Curie defended her thesis, entitled “Research on radioactive substances”. She had chosen this theme when Henri Becquerel discovered the natural radiation of uranium.

December 10, 1903: Pierre and Marie Curie receive the Nobel Prize in Physics

The Curie spouses, associated with Henri Becquerel, received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research on radioactive phenomena.

April 19, 1906: Death of Pierre Curie

Pierre Curie is accidentally knocked down by a horse-drawn carriage. Marie Curie finds herself alone with her two daughters, Irène and Ève, then barely two years old.

November 5, 1906: Marie Curie becomes a professor at the Sorbonne University, Paris – France

At 39, the French physicist of Polish origin Marie Curie becomes the first woman professor at the Sorbonne. Marie Curie in fact succeeds her husband, Pierre Curie, who died prematurely in April, in the chair of physics. She will teach while continuing her research and will receive her second Nobel Prize in 1911.

September 5, 1910: She isolates radium

Together with André Debierne, Marie Curie announces that she has succeeded in isolating metallic radium in its pure state. She was thus able to determine its atomic mass and received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her work in 1911.

January 23, 1911: Marie Curie is not accepted into the Academy of Sciences

While it had succeeded in isolating radium a few months earlier, the Academy of Sciences rejected Marie Curie’s membership. It is Édouard Branly who is preferred to him.

However, she received a second Nobel Prize, that of Chemistry, at the end of the year.

December 10, 1911: She receives the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the isolation of radium

In recognition of his services in 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.

1914: Marie Curie creates the first mobile radiological service

During the First World War, Marie Curie wanted to put her work on radioactivity and its effects in medicine at the service of the injuried people. This is why it organizes the first mobile radiology service. Assisted by her daughter Irène, she had eighteen cars nicknamed “little Curies” fitted out and herself trained around a hundred radiology technicians.

1914: Foundation of the Radium Institute

Created to reconcile scientific advances in radioactivity and medicine, the Institute was completed on the eve of the First World War. Its construction was then financed by the University of Paris and the Institut Pasteur.

It is made up of two sections: the Pasteur pavilion, directed by Claudius Regaud, and the Curie laboratory, directed by Marie Curie.

After the war, Claudius Regaud will concentrate his activities on the fight against cancer by radiation. The Radium Institute merged with the Curie Foundation in 1970, giving birth to the Curie Institute.

May 20, 1921: Marie Curie travels to New York

After an awareness campaign among wealthy American women, journalist Marie Meloney manages to raise enough money to obtain one gram of radium. She then wishes to donate it to Marie Curie, in order to enable her to continue her research on radioactivity and radiotherapy.

This is how Marie Curie arrived in New York with her two daughters. The reputation of the physicist is international.

July 4, 1934: Marie Curie dies of leukemia

Caused by too long and too intense exposure to radiation, a cancer of the blood cells carried away Marie Curie, at the age of 66 years old. She leaves the torch to her eldest daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, as determined and relentless as her mother.

Sources: PinterPandai, Britannica, Nobel Prize, Live Science

Photo credit: Marina Amaral

Photo explanation: Marie Curie In Her Laboratory In Paris, 1912

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