Marie Curie

  • Year:

    1909

  • Subject:

    Chemistry

  • Award:

    Cresson

  • Citation:

    For the discovery of radium (with Pierre Curie).

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland in 1867. She was one of the first female scientists to win worldwide fame, and her discoveries laid the groundwork for generations of scientists to follow.

Curie obtained degrees in mathematics and physics in Paris, where she met her husband, Pierre. In 1898, Curie discovered a new element, polonium (named for her home country of Poland), followed closely by the discovery of radium. In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered of a new phenomenon (which Curie later termed "radioactivity"), and Curie decided to find out if the property discovered in uranium was to be found in other matter. She went on to explore pitchblende, a mineral whose activity, superior to that of pure uranium, could only be explained by the presence in the ore of small quantities of an unknown substance of very high activity. In 1898, as a result of these studies, Curie discovered a new element, polonium (named for her home country of Poland), followed closely by the discovery of radium.

In 1903, the Curies shared with Becquerel the Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of radioactivity.

Curie's two daughters, Irene and Eve, were born in 1897 and 1904. Pierre died suddenly in 1906, and Marie henceforth devoted all of her energies to the research they had begun together. In 1906, she was appointed to the professorship that had been left vacant on her husband's death; she was the first woman to teach in the Sorbonne. She became titular professor in 1908, and in 1910 her fundamental treatise on radioactivity was published. In 1911, she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for the isolation of pure radium. In 1914, she saw the completion of the building of the laboratories of the Radium Institute (Institut du Radium) at the University of Paris. In 1918, the Radium Institute, the staff of which Irene had joined, began to operate in earnest, and it was to become a universal center for nuclear physics and chemistry.

Marie Curie died in 1934 of leukemia, which was caused by the exposure to the radiation that marked her life's work.

Information as of 1909