Marie Curie

Marie Curie books and biography


Marie Curie


Maria Skłodowska-Curie.
Maria Skłodowska-Curie.
Born November 7, 1867
Warsaw, Poland
Died July 4, 1934
Sancellemoz, France
Nationality Polish French
Field Physics and Chemistry
Institution Sorbonne
Alma Mater Sorbonne and ESPCI
Academic Advisor Henri Becquerel
Notable Students André-Louis Debierne
Marguerite Catherine Perey
Known for Radioactivity
Notable Prizes Nobel Prize for Physics (1903)
Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1911)
The only person to win two Nobel Prizes in different science fields. Married to Pierre Curie (m. 1895), their children include Irène Joliot-Curie and Ève Curie.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie (born Maria Skłodowska; known in France where she lived for most of her life as Marie Curie, aka Madame Curie; Warsaw, November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934, Sancellemoz, France) was a Polish-French physicist and chemist. She was a pioneer in radioactivity, the first two-time Nobel laureate (the only one in two different sciences), and the first female professor at the Sorbonne.


She was born in Warsaw, Poland, to Polish parents and lived there to age 24. In 1891 she went to Paris, France, to study science. She obtained her higher degrees and conducted nearly all her scientific work there, and became a naturalized French citizen. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris, France, and in her home town, Warsaw, in resurrected Poland.


Birthplace of Maria Skłodowska-Curie in Warsaw's
Birthplace of Maria Skłodowska-Curie in Warsaw's "New Town."

Born in Warsaw, in the Russian-ruled part of partitioned Poland, her early years were marked by the deaths of her sister (from typhus) and, four years later, her mother.

Young Skłodowska had an amazing memory and a diligent work ethic, neglecting even food and sleep while studying. She graduated from high school at the top of her class at age fifteen.

Due to her sex and to Russian reprisals following the Polish 1863 Uprising against Tsarist Russia, Skłodowska was denied admission to a regular university, and worked several years as a governess while attending Warsaw's illegal Flying University. Eventually, with financial help from her elder sister Bronisława, she moved to Paris.

Skłodowska attended high school at the Collège Sévigné, then studied physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne. (She would later become the Sorbonne's first female professor.) In the spring of 1893, she graduated first in her undergraduate class. A year later, also at the Sorbonne, she obtained her master's degree in mathematics. In 1903, under the supervision of Henri Becquerel, she received her DSc from the ESPCI, Paris, becoming the first woman in France to complete a doctorate.

At the Sorbonne, she met and married Pierre Curie, a fellow-instructor. Together they studied radioactive materials, particularly pitchblende — the ore from which uranium was extracted — which had the curious property of being more radioactive than the uranium extracted from it. By 1898 they had deduced that the pitchblende must contain traces of an unknown radioactive substance far more radioactive than uranium. On December 26, 1898, Skłodowska-Curie announced the existence of this substance.

Over several years' unceasing labor, they processed several tons of pitchblende, progressively concentrating the radioactive substances and eventually isolating the chloride salts (refining radium chloride on April 20, 1902) and identifying two new chemical elements. The first, they named "polonium," after Skłodowska-Curie's native country, Poland, and the other — "radium," for its intense radioactivity.

One of Maria Skłodowska-Curie's two Nobel Prize diplomas.
One of Maria Skłodowska-Curie's two Nobel Prize diplomas.

In 1903, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel 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."

Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Eight years later, she received the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, "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".

In an unusual decision, Skłodowska-Curie intentionally refrained from patenting the radium-isolation process, leaving it open so that the scientific community could do research unhindered. A month after accepting her 1911 Nobel Prize, she was hospitalized with depression and a kidney ailment. Whenever she felt especially depressed, she went to the countryside to relax.

She was the first person to win or share two Nobel Prizes. She is one of only two persons who have been awarded a Nobel Prize in two different fields, the other being Linus Pauling (Chemistry, Peace). She remains the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes.

Dołęga coat-of-arms, hereditary in Skłodowska's family.
Dołęga coat-of-arms, hereditary in Skłodowska's family.

After her husband's 1906 death in a street accident, she reputedly had an affair with physicist Paul Langevin — a married man who had left his wife — which resulted in a press scandal, taken advantage of by her academic opponents to damage her credibility. Despite her fame as an honored scientist working for France, the public's attitude to the scandal tended toward xenophobia. In a strange coincidence, Langevin's grandson Michel would later marry her granddaughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot.

During World War I, she pushed for the use of mobile radiography units, "Little Curies" (petites Curies), for the treatment of wounded soldiers. These units were powered using tubes of radium emanation, a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later identified as radon. Marie personally provided the tubes, derived from the radium she purified. Also, promptly after the war started, she donated her and her husband's gold Nobel Prize medals for the war effort.

In 1921, she toured the United States, where she was welcomed triumphantly, to raise funds for research on radium.

In her later years, she was disappointed by the many physicians and makers of cosmetics who used radioactive material without precautions.

  Polish 20,000-złoty banknote with likeness of Maria Skłodowska-Curie.
Polish 20,000-złoty banknote with likeness of Maria Skłodowska-Curie.
500-French franc banknote with Marie Curie and (background) her husband and 1903 fellow-Nobel-laureate, Pierre Curie.
500-French franc banknote with Marie Curie and (background) her husband and 1903 fellow-Nobel-laureate, Pierre Curie.
Plaque commemorating Maria Skłodowska-Curie's first scientific endeavors (1890–91), in a laboratory at Krakowskie Przedmieście 66, Warsaw.
Plaque commemorating Maria Skłodowska-Curie's first scientific endeavors (1890–91), in a laboratory at Krakowskie Przedmieście 66, Warsaw.

Her death near Sallanches in 1934 was from aplastic anemia, almost certainly due to massive exposure to radiation, as much of her work had been carried out in a shed with no safety measures being taken, as the damaging effects of hard radiation were not yet known. She carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket and stored them in her desk drawer, resulting in massive exposure to radiation. She remarked on the pretty blue-green light the substances gave off in the dark.

She was initially buried at the cemetery in Sceaux, where Pierre lay, but in 1995, to honor their work, their ashes were transferred to the Panthéon.

Their eldest daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935.


  • Nobel Prize for Physics (1903)
  • Davy Medal (1903)
  • Matteucci Medal (1904)
  • Nobel Prize for Chemistry (1911)


Skłodowska-Curie's younger daughter, Eve Curie, wrote the biography, Madame Curie, after her mother's death.

In 1995, Madame Curie was the first and only woman laid to rest under the famous dome of the Panthéon, in Paris, on her own merits (alongside her husband, Pierre Curie).

A unit of radioactivity, the Curie (symbol Ci), is named in their honor.

Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon starred in the 1943 U. S. Oscar-nominated film, Madame Curie, based on her life.

"Marie Curie" appears as a character in the 1988 comedy, Young Einstein, by Yahoo Serious.

French playwright Jean-Noël Fenwick's 1989 lighthearted drama, Les Palmes de M. Schutz, is based on the early romance and scientific collaboration of Marie and Pierre Curie. A 1997 movie version starred Isabelle Hupert as Mme. Curie.

Skłodowska-Curie's likeness appeared on the Polish late-1980s inflationary 20,000-złoty banknote. Her likeness also appeared on stamps and coins, and on the last French 500-franc note (with her husband, Pierre Curie) before the franc was made obsolete by the euro.

Element no. 96, Curium (Cm), is named in honour of her and Pierre.

Pierre and Marie Curie University, the largest science, technology and medicine university in France, and successor institution to the faculty of science at the University of Paris, where she taught, is named in honor of her and Pierre. The university is home to the laboratory where they discovered radium.

A school named for her, Marie Curie M.S.158, in Bayside, New York, specializes in science and technology.

See also

At the legendary First Solvay Conference (1911), Skłodowska-Curie (seated, 2nd from right), the only woman present, confers with Henri Poincaré. Standing, 4th from right, is Ernest Rutherford; 2nd from right, Albert Einstein; at far right, Paul Langevin.

Further reading

  • Madame Curie: A Biography, by Eve Curie, ISBN 0-306-81038-7
  • Marie Curie: A Life, by Susan Quinn, ISBN 0-201-88794-0
  • Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, by Barbara Goldsmith, ISBN 0-393-05137-4
  • The Book about Blanche and Marie, by Per Olov Enquist, ISBN 1-58567-668-3, a fictionalized account of relationships among Curie, JM Charcot and Blanche Wittman

This article might use material from a Wikipedia article, which is released under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share-Alike License 3.0.

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