Marie Curie

by: Will Acheampong & Shivam Aggarwal

Humble Beginnings

Marie Curie, born Maria Sladowska, was born in Warsaw, Poland as the youngest out of her parents' five children. Her parents, who were teachers, helped to form Curie's interest in chemistry and physics, directly influencing Curie's future in revolutionizing these two sciences. Although she was a bright student, Curie was only able to continue her studies until secondary school (schooling from ages 11 to 18) and lacked the resources to attend higher education. After working out an agreement with her sister Bronya, who also wished to continue her studies and obtain a degree, Curie worked for about five years as a tutor and governess to support her sister. However, in her spare time working, Curie would often spend her time studying on her own, eventually finishing working and enrolling in the Sorbonne in Paris. Within two years of attending this Parisian university, Curie obtained her master's degree in physics, as well as another degree in mathematics. After all of her hard work, Curie received a commission to conduct a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties; however, there was one small problem: she would need a lab to work in. This problem was easily remedied by a colleague who introduced her to Pierre Curie, an aspiring French physicist, creating one of the most dynamic duos in science.

Contributions to Chemistry and the field of Radioactivity

After being inspired by Henri Becquerel’s work with uranium rays, Marie and Pierre conducted her own research with uranium rays, discovering many things in the process. To conduct her research, Curie used an electrometer (homemade by Pierre), a device used to measure low electrical currents, effectively using it to discover that the rays were constantly emitted from the atom’s core, leading her to coin the term radioactivity and to create the field of atomic physics. After this amazing discovery, Marie continued her exploration of radioactivity by working with the mineral pitchblende, and, in the process, discovered the new radioactive element Polonium, named after Marie’s homeland of Poland. In order to discover this element, the Curies had to grind up samples of pitchblende, dissolved them in acid, and used the standard analytical techniques of time to separate the pitchblende, eventually discovering polonium. However, their research was deemed unfinished after seeing that a highly radioactive liquid was left behind, realizing that the pitchblende contained more than just uranium and polonium, calling the substance Radium, which is Latin for “ray”. Though the process seems very simple, isolating radium was a grueling task, in which the Curies were exposed to extremely large amounts of radiation, causing them to feel sick and physically exhausted. Although a woman, Marie Curie refused to let this factor come in the way of her research, and eventually became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize because of her research. We believe that Curie did indeed deserve to win the Nobel Prize, even though she had to share the glory with her husband and research partner, Pierre, and Prof. Henri Becquerel. Ms. Curie greatly expanded the world of chemistry and physics through her research, greatly affecting our world even today. No matter how much Curie was hampered by the gender inequality of her time, Curie surmounted every hurdle placed before her. Driven by her immense intellect and desire to forward scientific research, Curie still managed to become a trailblazer for not only women in science, but for aspiring male and female scientists alike.

*a black mineral also known as uraninite containing uranium and, unknown at the time, polonium and radium

Marie Curie's Accomplishments

After years of hard work, Curie, having greatly expanded the world of science, was awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics along with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, becoming the first woman to win the Nobel Prize. After her husband's untimely death in 1906, Curie took over her husband's teaching position at Sorbonne and became the institution's first female professor. In 1911, Curie won the Nobel Prize once more, this time in chemistry for her discovery of Radium and Polonium, becoming the first scientist to win two Nobel Prizes. Near this time, Curie joined other well-known scientists such as Albert Einstein and Max Planch to attend the first-ever Solvay Congress in Physics in order to discuss astonishing discoveries in physics.

X-rays and the Great War

During the First World War, Marie Curie worked to develop small, mobile X-ray units that could be used to diagnose injuries near the battlefront. Curie was Director of the Red Cross Radiological Service. She toured Paris, asking for money, supplies and vehicles which could be converted in to these units.

In October 1914, the first machines were ready, and Marie set off to the front. She worked at casualty clearing stations close to the front line, taking X-rays of wounded men to locate fractures, bullets and shrapnel. She did this service throughout much of the Great War.

Her Death and Legacy

All of her years of working with radioactive materials took a toll on Curie's health. She was known to carry test tubes of radium around in the pocket of her lab coat. In 1934, Curie went to the Sancellemoz Sanatorium in Passy, France, to try to rest and regain her strength. She died there on July 4, 1934, of aplastic anemia, which can be caused by prolonged exposure to radiation.

Marie Curie made many breakthroughs in her lifetime. She is the most famous female scientist of all time, and has received numerous posthumous honors. In 1995, her and her husband's remains were interred in the Panthéon in Paris, the final resting place of France's greatest minds. Curie became the first and only woman to be laid to rest there.

Today several educational and research institutions and medical centers bear the Curie name, including the Institute Curie and the Pierre and Marie Curie University, both in Paris.

Marie Curie the charity, which is depicted in the image to the left, is a charity organization that is there for people living with any terminal illness,especially cancer, and the family of the ill as well. Offering expert care and guidance, the organization supports these patients for the time they have left.

“I believe that Science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician; he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.”

—Marie Curie

How do Gamma Rays Kill Cancer? ... (and cause it!)


For more about the Marie Curie, the charity organization, go to:

"Marie Curie - Research Breakthroughs (1897-1904)." Marie Curie - Research Breakthroughs (1897-1904). American Institute of Physics, n.d. Web. 10 May 2015.


"Marie Curie." Bio. A&E Television Networks, 2015. Web. 10 May 2015. <>

"Marie Curie - Biographical". Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 10 May 2015. <>

Curie, Eve, and Vincent Sheean. Madame Curie: A Biography. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, Doran, 1937. Print. pages 22-75.

Marie Curie, Pierre Curie with Autobiographical Notes. Translated by Charlotte and Vernon Kellogg (New York: Macmillan, 1923).