Monday, November 7, 2011

Marie Curie

Marie Sklodowska Curie, one of the greatest, most brilliant scientists of all time, was born this day, November 7th 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was the daughter of a mathematician who also taught her physics.

In 1891 Marie began studying at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris, France in multiple disciplines: physics, chemistry and mathematics. She earned her physics degree in 1893 and her math degree in 1894.

That was the year she met Pierre Curie. Also a physicist, they shared a love of each other and science, marrying and working together for years until his untimely death in 1906.

They published a paper together in 1898 detailing the discovery of a new element, Polonium, that Marie named after her country of birth, Poland. That year they announced another discovery - the element radium.

Marie coined the term radioactivity at this time.

Pierre and Marie shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics for their research into "the radiation phenomenon." Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize.

In 1911, The Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to Marie in recognition for the elements radium and polonium and her work in radioactivity.

She thus became the first woman to ever win 2 Nobel prizes and in two different disciplines!

Standards of the day paled ( as in non-existent) to modern protocol and Marie often carried around radioactive isotopes "in her pocket." Just like Homer Simpson. This directly contributed to her death in 1934.

Her lab and materials - even her kitchen cookbook! - are all super-contaminated to this day. Her lab notes, materials, everything is kept in lead lined containers and can only be opened under special circumstances with haz mat suits.

Marie Curie's contribution to modern science is incalculable. The barriers she faced as a woman and overcame are incredible. You can count on one hand all the women were earning masters degrees in physics in the 1800's.

She was the first female professor at the University of Paris. She is and will always be an icon to the scientific community and to women everywhere. She is the most famous and celebrated female scientist that ever lived.

In 2009, Marie Curie was voted as "The Most Inspirational Woman in Science."

Marie and Pierre are now interred at the Paris Pantheon, and of course, she is the first and only woman to be buried there.

The Curie (symbol Ci), a unit of radioactivity, is named in her and/or Pierre's honour.

Three radioactive minerals are named after the Curies.

Skłodowska-Curie's likeness appeared on the Polish late-1980s 20,000banknote.
Her likeness has also appeared on stamps and coins, and on the last French 500 franc note.

Marie Curie was voted the "Most inspirational woman in science" in a 2009 poll carried out by New Scientist magazine on behalf of the UNESCO 'For Women In Science' programme.

Polish institutions named after Maria Skłodowska–Curie include:
Maria Curie-Skłodowska University, founded in 1944;
Maria Skłodowska–Curie Institute of Oncology, in Warsaw.

French institutions named after Maria Skłodowska–Curie include:
Pierre and Marie Curie University, the largest science, technology and medicine university in France.
The Curie Institute and Curie Museum, in Paris.

In 2007, the Pierre Curie Metro station was renamed the "Pierre et Marie Curie" station.

End Note:
Unbelievably, not only did Marie and Pierre win Nobel Prizes but their daughter Irene, and son-in-law Frédéric Joliot-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935, for discovering artificial radioactivity.

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