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STEM Celebrity Spotlight: Marie Curie

By Sidra Miller

Marie Curie was born on November 7th, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. Growing up, she received a general education. Her father, Władysław Skłodowski, taught her science and math. When she got older she realized that it was necessary for her to leave Poland. At that time, Russia was controlling Poland. At 24, she moved to Paris where she continued her studies at Sorbonne where she obtained her licenses in physics and math, and also met her future husband, Pierre Curie. Within a year they married, and she became the Head of the Physics Laboratory and got her Doctor of Science degree. In 1906 when Curie died, she took his place as the first woman as the Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences. She was also appointed Director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris, founded in 1914.

She and her husband's early studies were frequently conducted in trying circumstances, the lab facilities were subpar, and both had to take on a lot of teaching work to make ends meet. The Curies were inspired by Henri Becquerel's 1896 discovery of radioactivity to conduct a remarkable study and analysis that resulted in the separation of polonium and radium. Curie developed techniques for separating radium from radioactive leftovers in large enough amounts to enable its characterization and detailed examination of its qualities, particularly its medicinal potential. Throughout her life, Curie aggressively pushed for the use of radium to alleviate suffering. During World War I, she personally dedicated herself to this therapeutic endeavor with the help of her daughter Irene. In 1929, President Hoover of the United States gave her a gift of $50,000 from the American Friends of Science to purchase radium for use in the laboratory in Warsaw. She continued to be passionate about science throughout the rest of her life and contributed significantly to the establishment of a radioactivity laboratory in her hometown.

Scientists all over the world had a great deal of respect and affection for Curie. From 1911 until her death, she served on the Conseil du Physique Solvay, and since 1922, she had been a member of the League of Nations Committee on Intellectual Cooperation. She is the author of the classic Traité de Radioactivité as well as the works Recherches sur les Substances Radioactives and L'Isotopie et Les Éléments Isotopes.

The myriad amounts of accolades conferred on Curie are a testament to her achievements. She was awarded numerous honorary degrees in law, medicine, and science as well as honorary memberships in learned organizations all around the world. For their investigation into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel, who received the one half of the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, she and her husband shared the other half of the prize. Her study on radioactivity earned her a second Nobel Prize in chemistry in 1911. Additionally, in 1903, she and her husband shared the Davy Medal of the Royal Society, and in 1921, President Harding of the United States honored her with one gram of radium in honor of their achievements and service to science.

Works Cited

Nobel Lectures. “The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903.”, 2018, www.nobelprize


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