When we think of inspiring women whose intellect made history and the remarkable things they did, one name always crosses our minds and that is Marie Curie. Being the only person ever to have won two Nobel Prizes in two different sciences, she is one of the legendary scientists of the last century.
Marie Curie was born in Poland and later became a French citizen. She received her early education at local schools and her father trained her in science. At tender age of ten, she lost a sister and her mother. Though she was raised a Catholic, she became Agnostic. After graduation from college, she couldn’t continue her higher education because no institution admitted female students.
She made an agreement with her sister that she would help her meet her educational expenses in Paris and in return her sister would do the same for her after two years, so she worked as a governess.
In 1891, with her father’s help she went to Paris and studied Chemistry, Physics and Mathematics at University of Paris. To make the ends meet she studied in morning and taught in evening but she got barely enough to survive, she actually fainted several times from hunger and cold.
She started her first research on magnetic properties of different steels, during that time she met Pierre Curie. After earning her degree, she wanted to work in her homeland but she wasn’t given a place at universities because she was a woman. Pierre Curie persuaded her to get her Ph.D, the same year they married. At her wedding, she wore a simple blue outfit that she also wore during lab work.
When in 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that Uranium emits rays resembling x-rays, Curie decided to work on that for her thesis; using Electrometer, she discovered that Uranium rays caused air around them to conduct electricity. She claimed that radiation didn’t result from any sort of interaction between molecules, rather it is emitted from atom itself, it was milestone in Chemistry as previously scientists believed atom to be indivisible.
She discovered that thorium also emitted radiation, and two more radioactive elements. She named them Polonium after her country and Radium.
She used the term ‘Radioactivity’ for emission of radiation. She also discovered that when tumor producing cells are easily destroyed when exposed to radium.
During world war I, she set up France’s First Military Radiology Centre where over one million soldiers were treated. Marie Curie was an independent, elegant, strong, honest and loving woman. Einstein said of her that she is probably only person who couldn’t be corrupted by fame.
When people honored her with gifts and awards, she always insisted that they should be given to the scientific institutions she was affiliated with instead of herself. Even though she was never provided with a good lab, she researched and discovered.
Other than being an eminent scientist, a genius discoverer and a human activist, she was an amazing mother who never let anything interfere with her daughters’ training. Following in her mother’s footstep, her daughter Irene Curie won a Nobel prize in Chemistry, whereas Eve Curie was a brilliant writer and pianist.
Marie Curie died on July 4, 1934 at age 66, probably due to exposure to radiation, which she never knew was harmful. Being a woman, she faced many obstacles in her academic and scientific life, but she overcame all of them with her intellectual strength. She sure is a role model for, not only women but for everyone.
[Image Credit: Wikipedia]