Marie Sklodowska, as she was called before marriage, was born in Warsaw in
1867. Both her parents were teachers who believed deeply in the importance of
education. Marie had her first lessons in physics and chemistry from her father. She had a
brilliant aptitude for study and a great thirst for knowledge; however, advanced study was
not possible for women in Poland. Marie dreamed of being able to study at the Sorbonne
in Paris, but this was beyond the means of her family. To solve the problem, Marie and
her elder sister, Bronya, came to an arrangement: Marie should go to work as a governess
and help her sister with the money she managed to save so that Bronya could study
medicine at the Sorbonne. When Bronya had taken her degree she, in her turn, would
contribute to the cost of Marie's studies.
Now, however, there occurred an event that was to be of decisive importance in
her life. She met Pierre Curie. He was 35 years, eight years older, and an internationally
known physicist, but an outsider in the French scientific community - a serious idealist
and dreamer whose greatest wish was to be able to devote his life to scientific work.
Marie, too, was an idealist; though outwardly shy and retiring, she was in reality
energetic and single-minded. Pierre and Marie immediately discovered an intellectual
affinity, which was very soon transformed into deeper feelings. In July 1895, they were
married at the town hall at Sceaux, where Pierre's parents lived. Their life was otherwise
quietly monotonous, a life filled with work and study.
Persuaded by his father and by Marie, Pierre submitted his doctoral thesis in
1895. It concerned various types of magnetism, and contained a presentation of the
connection between temperature and magnetism that is now known as Curie's Law. In
1896, Marie passed her teacher's diploma, coming first in her group. Deciding after a
time to go on doing research, Marie looked around for a subject for a doctoral thesis.
Marie decided to make a systematic investigation of the mysterious 'uranium
rays'. She had an excellent aid at her disposal - an electrometer for the measurement of
weak electrical currents, which was constructed by Pierre and his brother, and was based
on the piezoelectric effect.
In 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded half the .. In a letter to the Swedish
Academy of Sciences, Pierre explains that neither of them is able to come to Stockholm
to receive the prize. They could not get away because of their teaching obligations. He
adds, 'Mme Curie has been ill this summer and is not yet completely recovered'. That was
certainly true but his own health was no better. The health of both Marie and Pierre
Curie gave rise to concern. Their friends tried to make them work less. All their
symptoms were ascribed to the draughty shed and to overexertion.
On 19 April 1906, Pierre Curie was run over by a horse-drawn wagon near the
Pont Neuf in Paris and killed. Now Marie was left alone with two daughters, Irène aged 9
and Ève aged 2.
In the last ten years of her life, Marie had the joy of seeing her daughter Irène and
her son-in-law Frédéric Joliot do successful research in the laboratory. She lived to see
their discovery of artificial radioactivity, but not to hear that they had been awarded the
Marie Curie died of leukemia on 4 July 1934.
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