Who is she?
Marie Curie was a Polish (and later naturalised French) chemist and physicist who was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win it twice. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.
After school, Marie was unable to enrol in a regular university because she was a woman, so she and her sister Bronisława attended the secret Flying University, a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning that admitted women students.
Marie and Bronislawa had a deal that they would work to support each other through university (Bronislawa studied medicine).
She moved to Paris, studying by day and tutoring at night to earn a living, but she lived in gruelling poverty. Here, she met Pierre Curie, and the two married and began working together. In the late 1800s they discovered polonium and radium. Pierre tragically died when he slipped and fell under a heavy horse-drawn cart.
During WW1, Marie ran France’s first military radiology service, helping battlefield surgeons. She directed the installation of 20 mobile radiological vehicles and another 200 radiological units at field hospitals in the first year of the war. She also tried to donate her Nobel Prize medals to the war effort, but the French government refused.
Marie was absolutely committed to her scientific work – so much so that she intentionally didn’t patent the radium-isolation process, so that the scientific community could do research unhindered. She also insisted that monetary gifts and awards be given to scientific institutions.
Her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie went on to be a physicist and won a Nobel Prize too.
Why should we thank her?
Apart from her discoveries, Marie carried out the first research into the treatment of tumours with radiation and was the founder of the Curie Institute, which remains among the world’s leading medical research centres.
She was a pioneer in the world of science for women, and no doubt inspired many who followed in her footsteps.
“I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.”