Marie Curie 1867 – 1934
Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland, the youngest of five children. She was a bright child and good student, but in Poland during the late 1800’s, there were no opportunities for women to attend university. Instead, she took informal classes given by sympathetic professors who believed in educating women. Marie finally made her way to Paris where she enrolled in the Sorbonne.
Poor, but happy to be studying at last, Marie earned her university degree and then two master’s degrees; one in physics and another in mathematics. While working in a lab, she met her future husband, Pierre Curie, a physicist. From then until his untimely death, they lived and worked together doing breakthrough research to discover the secrets of radioactivity (a word she invented).
In 1898, Marie and Pierre discovered a new radioactive element, which they named polonium in honor of Marie’s native county. They later discovered and named radium as well. Marie was the first woman ever to receive the Noble Prize along with her husband and physicist, Henri Becquerel. In 1911, Marie was honored with a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry and was the first scientist of either gender to receive two Nobel Prizes.
Sadly, in Marie’s time, the dangers of handling radioactive substances was not fully realized and Marie developed aplastic anemia, most likely as a result of her work. She and Pierre are buried in the Pantheon in Paris with other notables from French history. Marie inspired her daughter, Irene, to pursue a scientific and win her own Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Marie Curie is an inspiration to women dreaming of a career in science.