Marie Curie

Marie Curie's original name was Maria Sklodowska. She was known among her family and friends as Manya. She was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, the city that had once been the capital of Poland. Manya's parents were teachers and they taught their children the value of learning.

When Maria grew up, she spent three years in a village hundred and fifty kilometers from Warsaw. She was hired as a teacher by the owner of a beet-sugar factory to teach his children. He did not object when she used some of her spare time to teach other children of the Polish peasant workers.

Maria returned to Warsaw in 1889. Her father had become the head of a reform school and was earning a better salary. He was now able to send money to Bronya in Paris each month. For another two years, Maria worked as a governess and a tutor. On Sundays and in the evenings she secretly studied Chemistry at a "Museum," which was actually an illegal laboratory for training Polish scientists.

Maria had saved up just enough money for University studies in Paris. She had been looking forward to this moment for a long time. She left her father and Poland but promised to return after finishing her studies.

She got registered at the famous Sorbonne University as Marie, the French form of Maria.

Marie was not as well prepared as her fellow students. Nevertheless, through her hard work, she finished her Master's degrees in Physics and Maths in only three years. Marie's advanced work in Physics won her a scholarship. A group of industrialists, the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry, paid her to examine the magnetic properties of different steels. For this, she needed a laboratory.

Marie met Pierre Curie in 1894. He had a laboratory dually the relationship between Pierre and Marie deepened and he persuaded her not to return to Poland and pursue her further studies. She in turn convinced him to write up his magnetism research and get a doctoral degree. He was then promoted to a professorship.

Soon, Pierre and Marie got married in July 1895. Over the next two years, Marie completed her research on the magnetic properties of steel. She gave birth to their first daughter, Irene, in September 1897. Pierre's father, a retired doctor, moved in with them to look after his granddaughter, Irene.

In December 1895, a German Physicist, Wilhelm Roentgen, had discovered rays that could travel through solid wood or flesh. A few months later a French Physicist, Henri Becquerel, discovered that minerals containing uranium also gave off rays. Roentgen's X-rays amazed scientists, who started studying them with great interest. Marie decided to investigate the uranium rays. She began to experiment at once.

First of all, Marie needed a laboratory. She was able to get a storeroom in the Paris Municipal School, where her husband, Pierre Curie, was now a professor. The storeroom was crowded and damp, but somehow she had to overcome its problems. She started off by studying a variety of chemical compounds that contained uranium.

She discovered that the strength of the rays that came out depended only on the amount of uranium present in the compound. Scientists were fascinated by the discovery of X-rays. By the end of the 19th century, many of the great discoveries took place. There were Laws for electricity and magnetism and gravity and more. But scientists knew they faced even greater mysteries, for the true nature of energy and matter was entirely unknown.

Marie discovered that the mineral pitchblende was more radioactive than the uranium or thorium it contained. She was convinced that a careful analysis of pitchblende would uncover a new radioactive element. Pierre was excited by his wife's idea and joined her in the research.

The Curies used a new method of chemical analysis. The trick they invented was to find which of the separated parts was most radioactive, using the electrometer to make precise measurements. Then they would make more separations, again and again, tracking down the unknown element by its radioactivity.

At the end of the experiment, they found two new radioactive elements. They named the first one as "polonium". It behaved chemically about the same as an element named bismuth and the other substance they named "radium" had about the same chemistry as the element barium. But polonium and radium were different from the known elements in one big way, as each was strongly radioactive.

It had strange properties. Their color smell, hardness, used to change according to their treatment. Experimenting out with various chemicals, Marie found that compounds that contained an uncommon element, thorium, also gave off rays.

In July 1898, they published a paper about their first discovery. They honor discovery. They honored Marie's native land by naming the element "polonium." That, December they announced the second new element, which they named "radium".

Other scientists did not trust the announcement, as the Curies did not have enough polonium and radium to see and weigh. The element's existence was known from nothing but their radioactivity. The Curies would have to separate their elements from the other substances they were mixed with The storeroom at Pierre's school was too small for such work, and the Curies continued their work in an abandoned shed nearby.

The public and industrialists were fascinated by the Curies' discoveries. Radium was an amazing invention. Moreover, Pierre proved that radium could damage living flesh. That opened a new way to treat cancer and other ailments.

But Marie lost nearly 20 pounds of her weight while doing her doctoral research and Pierre was often exhausted in pain. The overwork and stress were the cause of their frequent illnesses. Marie refused to believe that radiation was very harmful.

It took Marie Curie more than three years to separate one-tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride, a fragment almost too tiny to see. Only then could she find the new element's atomic weight. It took her another eight years to isolate pure radium. She never succeeded in isolating polonium. It took a while for scientists to understand why radioactive elements were so hard to work with. The Curies themselves did not grow rich from this industry. In fact, they had a problem covering their household everyday expenditure. They increased their income in 1900 by taking on more teaching work.

Marie became the first woman faculty member at France's top training school for women teachers. In 1903, she completed her doctoral thesis, becoming the first woman to receive a doctorate in France.

When the Nobel Prize for Physics was awarded to Pierre and Marie Curie in 1903, the great honor quickly changed their lives. Pierre was finally appointed to a professorship at the Sorbonne. It also hired Marie as the first woman to win a Nobel Prize as "laboratory chief."

Pierre and Marie felt ill and too busy to go to Sweden to deliver the traditional lecture accepting the Nobel Prize. On April 19, 1906, after working in the laboratory in the morning, Pierre was on his way to a library when he slipped on the wet street and fell in front of a heavy horse-drawn wagon. It ran over his head, killing him instantly.

Despite her shock and grief, Marie went back to work a day after the funeral. Less than a month later, the Sorbonne agreed to make her its first woman professor, taking up Pierre's position. Meanwhile, she continued important laboratory work. Another scientist had come up with a theory that radium was not an element at all, but a compound of the known elements lead and helium. It took her several years to prove beyond doubt that radium was indeed an element.

Marie Curie became the first person to win a second Nobel Prize. She pulled herself together and traveled to Sweden to accept the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for her discovery of radium and polonium in 1911. In the following months, she suffered from depression and kidney problems. Many months passed by, but she finally returned to work in late 1912. She never remarried. She devoted her entire life to the Radium Institute. Her health worsened by the late 1920s. On July 4, 1934, at the age of 67, Madame Curie died of leukemia.