Marie Curie’s 144th Birthday

Madame Curie (Sklodowska) was born in Poland on 7th November 1867. She became very famous as she is the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences – Physics in 1903 and Chemistry in 1911. We have her to thank for developing radiotherapy, which is now commonly used in the treatment of cancer. As a child, she was known for her curious mind and incredible memory. Her father was a professor of science and she dreamed of following in his footsteps. This was not easy to accomplish as her family had become very impoverished. At the age of eighteen, Marie worked as a governess to help finance her sister’s studies in France. Her sister was eventually able to return the favour by bringing Marie to France when she was twenty four and helping to pay for her studies in scientific work. She married Pierre Curie in 1859 and bore him two daughters, Irene and Eve. Whilst having become a French citizen, she clung onto her Polish roots and taught her daughters to speak Polish. She regularly took her family back to Poland for visits.

She pioneered research on radioactivity which is now widely used to kill cancerous tumours. She also became known as the first female professor at the University of Paris and the first female to obtain a Nobel Prize. In 1903, her Nobel Prize was shared with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel. She was however the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

In 1906, Pierre was run down by a horse driven carriage in Paris and killed. Thus Marie was widowed and left with the sole responsibility of her two daughters. After her husband’s death, Marie was offered a national pension which she refused and instead took her husband’s place at the Sorbonne. She was shortly elected to a full professorship and became the first woman to hold a chair at the Sorbonne. The experiments she and her collaborators undertook were done blindly and in total ignorance of any potential side effects. The result is that she and her daughter Irene both ended up with Leukaemia, presumable the results of constant exposure to radioactivity. Her health failed rapidly and she eventually died, as a result of complications from handling radioactivity. Her daughter Eve was at her deathbed. Her research notebook is still so contaminated with radioactivity that it is considered dangerous and cannot be handled. There are now many homes for cancer patients worldwide named after Marie Curie.

Today, on the anniversary of her birthday, she is being commemorated in many countries. The world has a good reason to recognise this amazing woman and France and Poland have declared the year 2011as the year of Marie Curie. To commemorate this, a picture of her has been released, sitting at her desk, in her laboratory, in period dress and surrounded by her test tubes. Google doodle gets on the bandwagon by releasing this picture of her and applauding her achievements loudly.