Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Warsaw, Congress Poland, Russian Empire
Digital Illustration, 24" x 32", 2022
Marie Curie was a pioneer who changed the world of science and became a role model for women seeking a career in science. With her husband, Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for her work on spontaneous radiation. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry, in recognition of her work in radioactivity. She became the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice and to win in two separate scientific fields.
Breaking standards for women, Curie left Poland in 1890 for Paris to study at Sorbonne University. It was there she met her husband and scientific collaborator, Pierre Curie. They studied Henri Becquerel’s findings that uranium spontaneously emitted an X-ray-like radiation that interacted with photographic film. The Curies found that radiation’s strength depended on an element’s quantity and was not affected by chemical or physical changes. This proved that radiation was connected to the elements atom (radioactivity) and that other elements were also radioactive, specifically polonium and radium. Continuing their work on radium, Curie and Pierre extracted a small gram of pure radium chloride salt from a large amount of pitchblende. Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for the Nobel Prize, but Marie was not mentioned. Pierre fought for his wife’s recognition which led to all three of them winning the Nobel Prize in 1903 in Physics.
Shortly thereafter, Pierre died in a tragic accident leaving Curie to raise their daughter and to continue their scientific research. She assumed his position at Sorbonne University, becoming its first female teacher. She went on to win a second Nobel Prize in 1911 through her discovery of radium and polonium which lead to research on the treatment of neoplasms (cancer). Importantly, during World War I, Curie developed mobile X-ray units (“Petits Curies”) used to treat soldiers on the front lines. At age 66, Curie passed away from what was believed to be years of radiation poisoning.