Updated: Jun 29, 2021
An amazing scientist who showed that women deserve to pursue STEM.
By: Naya Dukkipati
"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood." Marie Curie
Born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland, Marie Curie was the youngest of five children and excelled in school. Since they were young, her parents taught them the value of learning. When she was 11 years old, one of her sisters died of typhus, and soon after, her mom died of tuberculosis. Despite the tragedies they endured, Marie's father tried to keep his kids focused on their studies. Marie and her older sister both wanted to continue their education and receive higher degrees, but there were no universities in Poland that would allow women students, so they attended a clandestine university.
Thereafter, Marie and her sister moved to Paris to study. Marie graduated with a degree in physics in 1893. She then arrived in the French Capital and joined the Sorbonne University, where she studied physics and mathematics. After two years of intense work, she became number one in her year. Shortly after receiving her degree, she met Pierre Curie, he was a fellow scientist, and Marie and Pierre fell in love fast. They were both interested in natural science and seeking new discoveries.
Marie focused her work on radioactivity. She was fascinated by how X- ray machines worked, and she wanted to understand them better. When Murray found out about the recent discoveries about the new types of radiation, she decided to investigate them. She started studying the radiation of uranium, and using the piezoelectric techniques invented by Pierre, she carefully measured the radiation in pitchblende, a mineral that contained it. Once she saw the radiation of the mineral was more intense than that of uranium itself, she realized there must be known elements more radioactive. Through studying and working to understand X-rays, she discovered two new elements: radium and polonium.
In 1903, they were awarded the Physics Nobel Prize, thanks to their discovery of radioactive elements, shared with Becquerel. Marie Curie was the first woman to ever get this award. In 1904, Pierre was named a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1905, a member of the French Academy. These positions weren't really for women, so Mary didn't get as much recognition. Sadly, Pierre died on April 19, 1906 due to a horse accident. From that moment on, Marie decided to take on his classes and continue with the research. In 1911, she got her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her research on radium and its compounds. She was the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes.
When World War I broke out, she used her scientific knowledge to help the troops; she built mobile X-ray machines. These machines became a part of military hospitals and aided in giving wounded soldiers the best care possible. Marie left for the US in 1921 to collect a gram of radium. However, Marie Curie suffered from aplastic anemia, which was caused by large exposure to radiation, and soon died.
Marie Curie's life was a continuous fight, and she had to overcome a myriad of obstacles to pursue her dream. However, her death was not in vain as her discoveries in radiation launched a new era on earthing some of science's greatest secrets and paved a path for all future women in science.