Monday, 27 April 2015

Maria Sklodowska

                              Marie Curie and her daughters Eve and Irene

Youngest of five children Maria Sklodowska was born in Poland in 1867. With both parents as teachers she excelled at school and despite her mother dying early when Maria was only eleven years old she continued in her studies. In those days University education was only available for men in her country so she and her sister who was also talented worked out a plan whereby Maria would work as a tutor/governess while her sister Bronya studied abroad and then Maria could do likewise.

When her turn came Maria chose to enroll at the Sorbonne University in Paris despite having barely enough money to support herself. She achieved a masters degree in Physics in 1893 and was commissioned to study the magnetic properties of steel. As she had no laboratory of her own she shared one with a physicist Pierre Curie another graduate of the Sorbonne. Presumably she amended her name to Marie in France

Her studies with other scientists work soon had her conducting experiments on the element Uranium and its properties. The rays emitted from it being weaker than the X-rays found by Roentgen. She herself coined the word radioactivity to explain them. Her discovery then set up a field of study called Atomic Physics. 

She and Pierre were married in 1895. Despite Marie becoming a mother to a daughter Irene in 1897 she continued her studies and Pierre joined her in her work and both later discovered a new radioactive element named Polonium; this name recognized the country of her birth; Poland. Radium was also discovered by them from the substance Pitchblende which was a previously unknown element.

Henri Becquerel together with Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. The award allowed them to continue their research. Despite this Marie still managed to have another child, Eve in 1904. 

Sadly Pierre was killed in a street accident in 1906 but Marie took over his teaching work at the Sorbonne becoming the first female professor there. She again won the Nobel prize in her own right for Chemistry this time in 1911.

When the Great War 1914-1918 broke out she encouraged the use of portable X-ray machines in the field which were nicknamed "Little Curies". The deleterious effect of X-rays on humans was not well known and it was said she often had test tubes of radium in her lab coat!

She progressively became more unwell in the early nineteen-thirties with aplastic anemia probably caused by radiation and died in a sanatorium in Passy, France in July 1934.

Her daughter Irene also became a Nobel Laureate for her own work in Chemistry in 1935 sharing it with her husband Frederic Joliot.

Image found at
This is my precis of an article found at


  1. I remember reading a biography of Marie Curie as a child. I was fascinated with her diligence and strength. I've also seen a movie about her. She was an inspiring lady.

  2. She was a fascinating woman. I wondered about her children. I'm glad they became presumably healthy.

  3. What a great lady for her time. Thanks for this piece of history.

  4. This was so interesting, Old Egg. I remember learning only a small part of this story while in school, and to see her now though older eyes I realize how many times she had to break traditional roles to reach the places she wanted to go in life. Inspiring! And so tragic that she was made ill by the very substance that brought her fame. It seems that good and bad always walk hand in hand. Excellent post, Old Egg, great use of the prompt!

  5. I've read that although she was an intelligent and powerful woman, she could be hard to work for, sometimes to a dangerous degree. I've never seen this particular photo. Thanks for posting it.

  6. Very interesting. We learned a bit about the Curie's in school but nothing about their personal life. She was quite determined and driven! Like the photo...have only seen pictures of a professional nature before.