Marie Curie

The world of women scientist is incomplete without mentioning the name of Marie Curie. This extraordinary brilliant scientist was born on 7th November 1867. There is no match for her work in the field of chemistry and physics.  The year 2011 was celebrated as the International year of Chemistry on account of 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize awarded to Madam Curie.

Marie Curie was a Polish-French scientist of Physicist and Chemist. Her research of radioactivity proved very fundamental and revolutionary. She was the first woman professor of Paris University. She was the first lady to win the Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize in two branches of science. She was born at Warsaw in Russian Poland and stayed there till the age of 24. In 1891, she went to Paris for further studies.  She completed her higher education there and attained a degree. Her biggest research achievements included theory of radioactivity, isolation of radioactive isotopes and discovery of two elements, radium and polonium.

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Under her guidance, radioactive isotopes were used for the first time in the treatment of abnormal proliferation of cells. Although she was a French citizen, she never regretted her Polish identity. She named the first chemical element discovered by her as Polonium, after her native country. She even actively participated in the Free Poland Movement.

She was the fifth and the youngest child in her family. Her both the parents were teachers. Marie Curie’s father was a teacher of physics and mathematics and this developed an interest in Marie Curie regarding these subjects.  Marie’s family had to strive through various political happenings taking place in Poland.  In 1893, Marie obtained the degree in Physics and in 1894; she obtained a degree in Mathematics. She then went back to Warsaw in Poland but she was denied a place there merely because she was a woman.  She then returned to Paris.  After one year, in 1894 she married Pierre Curie, who was then an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry.  These two Physicist couple then never left their laboratory. They were enumerated among the rarest people of the world. Their combined work proved eternal and revolutionary.


                                                                                                                  Marie Curie And Pierre Curie

In 1896, Henry Becquerel discovered uranium salts. This uranium salts emitted rays which had penetration power as that of X-rays. Marie Curie decided to study the uranium rays for her research. She invented some techniques for testing some samples of the uranium rays. She used Curie’s electrometer for her research, which was invented by Pierre Curie for measuring electric charge. By using this electrometer she proved that electricity is conducted in the air surrounding the sample of uranium rays. By using this technique she came to the conclusion that the radioactivity of uranium depends upon its quantity.  She showed that the radiation taking place in the uranium comes from the atom itself and not due to any molecular interactions.  Scientifically, this invention was done solely by Madam Curie and was an important invention but Madam Curie was aware that the world would not easily accept that a woman has done such a fundamental invention and she is having such a tremendous capacity.

 Pierre Curie realized that Madam Curie’s invention was not spurious. He was so baffled with the research that he discontinued his research on crystals for some time and started working on radioactivity with Marie. On 14th April 1898, they began to grind 100 grams of pitchblende in a mortar and pestle. They did not know that what they were searching for was minute quantity of element which was to be obtained after processing tones of ores. They worked on this substance without any protection as they were unaware of the hazardous effects of the element and what they would have to pay for their health.

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On July 1898, Marie and Pierre Curie published their research paper in which they presented the existence of an element called polonium. On 26th December, they published another research paper stating the existence of second element called radium.  From the name of this element, the word radioactive was formed. In 1902, they were successful in doing the arduous task of separating one tenth gram of radium chloride from a ton of pitchblende.  In 1903, Marie Curie, Henry Becquerel and Pierre Curie received the Nobel Prize for their notable contribution in the field of Physics. Marie and Pierre Curie were unable to go to Stockholm to attend the award function but their students and friends helped them financially for completing the formalities required for the prize.

In 1906, Pierre Curie was killed in an accident. In 1910, Madam Curie discovered pure radium. In 1911, she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.  Hardly after one month of receiving the Nobel Prize, was Marie Curie hospitalized. She was suffering from depression and minor kidney ailment. Marie was the first person to receive two Nobel Prizes in multiple sciences. In spite of this she lost the election of French Academy of Sciences by two votes. Marie Curie made a great contribution during the First World War. She developed mobile radiography units and treated several injured soldiers. The energy required for these mobile radiography units was produced from a colorless radioactive gas, which was later known as radon. She even tried to donate her Nobel Prize medals after the war has started, but the officials refused to accept it.

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                                                                                                                    Mobile Radiography Unit

Marie Curie died on 4th July 1934. Due to continuous vicinity of radium, she became extremely weak. The effect of radium on human body was not known at that time, due to which she never used any protection while working. She was buried at the cemetery near her husband. Marie Curie’s work is an international heritage. The discovery of radium and its radioactivity was an important and era developing invention. The complete invention of Marie Curie developed many aspects and topics in the field of chemistry and physics. Along with this the woman’s world also received a new perspective due to her work and respect she gained. She was visionary, independent and scholarly person in true sense.   


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