1 . Biography
Born November 7, 1867, Warsaw, Congress Kingdom of Poland, Russian Empiredied July 4, 1934, near Sallanches, France), Polish born French physicist, famous for her work on radioactivity and twice a winner of the Nobel Prize. With Henri Becquerel and her husband, Pierre Curie, she was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize for Physics. She was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize for Chemistry. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and she is the only woman to win the award in two different fields.
From childhood she was remarkable for her prodigious memory, and at the age of 16 she won a gold medal on completion of her secondary education at the Russian lycee. Because her father, a teacher of mathematics and physics, lost his savings through bad investment, she had to take work as a teacher and, at the same time, took part clandestinely in the nationalist free university, reading in Polish to women workers. At the age of 18 she took a post as governess, where she suffered an unhappy love affair. From her earnings she was able to finance her sister Bronis?awas medical studies in Paris, with the understanding that Bronis?awa would in turn later help her to get an education.
In 1891 Sk?odowska went to Paris and, now using the name Marie, began to follow the lectures of Paul Appel, Gabriel Lippmann, and Edmond Bouty at the Sorbonne. There she met physicists who were already well knownJean Perrin, Charles Maurain, and Aime Cotton. Sk?odowska worked far into the night in her student quarters garret and virtually lived on bread and butter and tea. She came first in the licence of physical sciences in 1893. She began to work in Lippmanns research laboratory and in 1894 was placed second in the licence of mathematical sciences. It was in the spring of that year that she met Pierre Curie.
Their marriage (July 25, 1895) marked the start of a partnership that was soon to achieve results of world significance, in particular the discovery of polonium (so called by Marie in honour of her native land) in the summer of 1898 and that of radium a few months later. Following Henri Becquerels discovery (1896) of a new phenomenon (which she later called radioactivity), Marie Curie, looking for a subject for a thesis, decided to find out if the property discovered in uranium was to be found in other matter. She discovered that this was true for thorium at the same time as G.C. Schmidt did.
Turning her attention to minerals, she found her interest drawn to pitchblende, a mineral whose activity, superior to that of pure uranium, could be explained only by the presence in the ore of small quantities of an unknown substance of very high activity. Pierre Curie then joined her in the work that she had undertaken to resolve this problem and that led to the discovery of the new elements, polonium and radium. While Pierre Curie devoted himself chiefly to the physical study of the new radiations, Marie Curie struggled to obtain pure radium in the metallic stateachieved with the help of the chemist Andre Louis Debierne, one of Pierre Curies pupils. On the results of this research, Marie Curie received her doctorate of science in June 1903 and, with Pierre, was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society. Also in 1903 they shared with Becquerel the Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of radioactivity.
The birth of her two daughters, Irene and eve, in 1897 and 1904 did not interrupt Maries intensive scientific work. She was appointed lecturer in physics at the ecole Normale Superieure for girls in Sevres (1900) and introduced there a method of teaching based on experimental demonstrations. In December 1904 she was appointed chief assistant in the laboratory directed by Pierre Curie.The sudden death of Pierre Curie (April 19, 1906) was a bitter blow to Marie Curie, but it was also a decisive turning point in her career henceforth she was to devote all her energy to completing alone the scientific work that they had undertaken. On May 13, 1906, she was appointed to the professorship that had been left vacant on her husbands death, she was the first woman to teach in the Sorbonne. In 1908 she became titular professor, and in 1910 her fundamental treatise on radioactivity was published. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for the isolation of pure radium. In 1914 she saw the completion of the building of the laboratories of the Radium Institute (Institut du Radium) at the University of Paris.
2 . Early Life and Education
Maria Salomea Sklodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867. At that time, Warsaw lay within the borders of the Russian Empire. Marias family wanted Poland to be an independent country.We shall refer to Maria from now on as Marie Curie her name after marriage because that is how she is best known.Marie Curies mother and father Bronislawa and Wladyslaw were both teachers and encouraged her interest in science.When Marie was aged 10, her mother died and she started attending a boarding school. She then moved to a gymnasium a selective school for children who were strong academically. Aged 15, Marie graduated from her high school with a gold medal as top student and a burning interest in science.
3 . Problems
Two obstacles now stood in Maries way
Her father had too little money to support her ambition to go to university.
Higher education was not available for girls in Poland
4 . Two Polish Girls in Paris
To overcome the obstacles they faced, Marie agreed to work as a tutor and childrens governess to support Bronya financially. This allowed Bronya to go to France to study medicine in Paris.And so, for the next few years of her life, Marie worked to earn money for herself and Bronya. In the evenings, if she had time, she read chemistry, physics and math textbooks. She also attended lectures and laboratory practicals at an illegal free university where Poles learned about Polish culture and practical science, both of which had been suppressed by the Russian Tsarist authorities.In November 1891, aged 24, Marie followed Bronya to Paris. There she studied chemistry, mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne, Pariss most prestigious university. The course was, of course, taught in French, which Marie had to reach top speed with quickly.At first she shared an apartment with Bronya and Bronyas husband, but the apartment lay an hour away from the university. Marie decided to rent a room in the Latin Quarter, closer to the Sorbonne.This was a time of some hardship for the young scientist, winters in her unheated apartment chilled her to the bone.
5 . Top Student Again
In summer 1893, aged 26, Marie finished as top student in her masters physics degree course. She was then awarded industrial funding to investigate how the composition of steel affected its magnetic properties. The idea was to find ways of making stronger magnets.Her thirst for knowledge also pushed her to continue with her education, and she completed a masters degree in chemistry in 1894, aged 27.
6 . Homesick
For a long time, Marie had been homesick. She dearly wished to return to live in Poland. After working in Paris on steel magnets for a year, she vacationed in Poland, hoping to find work. She found out that there were no jobs for her.A few years earlier, she had been unable to study for a degree in her homeland because she was a woman. Now, for the same reason, she found she could not get a position at a university.
7 . Back to Paris and Pierre
Marie decided to return to Paris and begin a Ph.D. degree in physics.Back in Paris, in the year 1895, aged 28, she married Pierre Curie. Pierre had proposed to her before her journey back to Poland. Aged 36, he had only recently completed a Ph.D. in physics himself and had become a professor. He had written his Ph.D. thesis after years of delay, because Marie had encouraged him to.Pierre was already a highly respected industrial scientist and inventor, who, when aged just 21, had discovered the piezoelectric effect with his brother Jacques. Pierre was also an expert in magnetism, and he discovered the effect now called the Curie Point where a change of temperature has a large effect on a magnets properties.
8 . Scientific Discoveries
The Ph.D. degree is a research based degree, and Marie Curie now began to investigate the chemical element uranium.
9 . Discovery of Polonium Radium and a New Word
Marie and Pierre decided to hunt for the new element they suspected might be present in pitchblende. By the end of 1898, after laboriously processing tons of pitchblende, they announced the discovery of two new chemical elements which would soon take their place in Dmitri Mendeleevs periodic table.The first element they discovered was polonium, named by Marie to honor her homeland. They found polonium was 300 times more radioactive that uranium.The second element the couple discovered was radium, which they named after the Latin word for ray. The Curies found radium was several million times more radioactive than uranium! They also found radiums compounds were luminous and that radium was a source of heat, which it produced continuously without any chemical reaction taking place. Radium is always hotter than its surroundings.
10 . Tragedy and Progress
The money from their Nobel Prizes made life easier for Marie and Pierre. For the first time, they could afford a laboratory assistant. Pierre took the Chair of Physics at the Sorbornne. The university also agreed to provide a new, well equipped laboratory for the couple. In 1904, Marie and Pierre had a second daughter, Eve.And then their happy life together came to an end. In 1906, Pierre was killed when he was hit by a horse drawn carriage in the street.Although distraught over her loss, Marie accepted the offer from the Sorbonne to replace Pierre as the Chair of Physics.Again, she was breaking the mold she had been first woman to win a Nobel Prize, now she was the first female professor at the University of Paris.