Brief Biography Born Maria Sklowska in Warsaw, Poland 1867, Marie Curie is perhaps best known for her work with radioactive elements. She married Pierre Curie and adopted the French version of her name in 1895 and together they accomplished many scientific advancements. However, after Pierre’s tragic death, Marie Curie continued her work. In 1903 she was the first woman to receive a Nobel prize (which she shared with Pierre and Antoine Henri Becquerel), the same year that she was awarded her doctorate degree. She later won another Nobel prize on her own in 1911, and continued to advance science until she died from exposure to the substances which made her famous in 1934.
Scientific Accomplishments Curie has several honorary degrees in science for her work (including one from my alma mater The University of Pittsburgh). She discovered radium and polonium (with Pierre), but she also discovered that thorium salts behave like x-rays. She was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of these elements, making her the first scientist to receive two Nobel Prizes. While doing some research into current uses of these radioactive materials, I came across an interesting article about the ways we used radium before we understood the risks. This article highlights how monumental the discovery was for us as humans, even if it turned out to be really bad. Even so, radium is still used for some cancer treatments and both radium and polonium still have scientific applications.
Advances for Women Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in physics and the first woman in France to receive a PhD in physics, both in the same year. She was the first of four women to rest in the Pantheon (among 74 men) as of May 2015. Although she focused on science, she was also an advocate for women’s rights. There are Universities named after her, an element she did not discover, and her family, both those living before and after her, have all impacted the scientific field.
Why Marie Curie is Important to Me A quote attributed to Marie Curie reads, “nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.” This is how science works, without this philosophy I would be out of a job. But GUESS WHAT?! This applies to everything in life. Fear holds us back from so much unnecessarily! Some fears are probably evolutionarily advantageous (i.e. snakes), but others are just a curtain to hide behind. If you peek around the curtain is it still scary? If so, why? If not, keep going. Keep going and going and going until the curtain is GONE. That is what Marie Curie did in her life. She kept poking and looking until she couldn’t anymore. It didn’t matter what happened that made it seem impossible, she just kept going. And now, she’s a household name for everything that she did. That’s pretty amazing to me.