Marie Curie is one of the most famous and respected scientists of all time. She is renowned across the world for the development of the theory of radioactivity, along with discovering the two elements, polonium and radium.
Apart from all this, she was a woman who was way ahead of her times. At a time when women entering the field of science was unthought of, she became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in a scientific field. Such was her work and calibre that she was revered across the scientific community in her times.
A brief biography of Marie Curie
Born on 7th November 1867 in Warsaw, Marie Curie got her first taste of scientific education from her father, a secondary school teacher. She left Warsaw, which was then controlled by Russia, and moved to Cracow, ruled by Austria.
In 1891, she moved to Paris and pursued her further education in physics and mathematics at Sorbonne. It was here that she met her husband, Pierre Curie and they married in 1895.
Both the Curies worked together on the concept of radioactivity, which was earlier discovered by Henri Becquerel in 1896. Often, their experiments were performed under very severe and adverse conditions, and the couple had to endure several hardships to pursue their research. Their research resulted in the isolation of polonium, which was named after Marie’s country of birth.
In 1903, she and her husband were awarded 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.” With this, Marie became the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize.
Unfortunately, Pierre Curie passed away in 1906 when he was knocked down by a carriage. The resilient Marie took over his teaching post, becoming the first woman ever to teach at Sorbonne.
She received her second Nobel Prize, this time for Chemistry, in 1911 “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.” She was the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person till date to win a Nobel Prize in two different scientific fields.
In honour of the 100-year anniversary of her winning the Nobel Prize, 2011 was declared as the ‘International Year of Chemistry.’
Her pathbreaking work was pivotal in the development of X-rays for surgery. Throughout her life, she worked extensively on radium, throwing light on its therapeutic properties. During World War I, she was instrumental in setting up several mobile and permanent X-ray stations to aid doctors in treating injuries on the battlefield.
Unfortunately, the years of handling radioactive material took a toll on her health. She passed away on 4th July, 1934 due to leukaemia caused by excessive exposure to radioactive substances.
Here are a few quotes from this inspiring woman, who has proved, time and again, that she was one of the greatest in her field.
“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”
“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.”
“You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for his own improvement and, at the same time, share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful.”
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”
“Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”
It is thanks to the efforts of women like Marie Curie that women of today feel so liberated and emancipated. She broke the shackles and fetters of conventional beliefs and fought her way through, creating a path when there was none and helping others walk on the path that she created.