One of the most famous scientists of all time, Marie Curie was the first woman to be honoured with the Nobel Prize. She was also the first person to win the Nobel Prize twice.
Marie was born as Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland on 7 November 1867. Her parents were both teachers and she was a very bright student. After completing her high school studies, Marie wanted to go to university. However, in those days universities were only for men and women were not allowed to join them.
Marie was determined and wanted to go to Paris to study at the Sorbonne, a famous university that women could attend. It took six years for Marie to save enough money, and with her sister’s help, she moved to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. Marie was keen to be a scientist and got her degree in Physics. In 1894, Marie met another scientist Pierre Curie. They fell in love and got married a year later.
X-rays had recently been discovered and Marie was keen to study the rays given off by different elements. While doing experiments on a material called pitchblende, Marie and Pierre discovered
two new elements. She named the first ‘polonium’ after her native Poland, and the other ‘radium’ as it gave off strong rays. Marie and Pierre coined the term ‘radioactivity’ as the property of emitting string rays.
In 1902, Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, along with another scientist Henri Becquerel, for their work on radiation. Marie became the first woman in history to win a Nobel Prize! She was awarded the Nobel Prize again in 1911, this time for her discovery of polonium and radium.
During the first World War, Marie contributed immensely towards the use of X-rays to diagnose injuries in soldiers. In those days, all hospitals did not have X-ray machines so Marie came up with the idea of trucks that moved the machines from hospital to hospital. These trucks were believed to have helped in the treatment of over 1 million soldiers.
However, exposure to radiation took a toll on Marie’s health and as a result, she died in 1934 of cancer.
Throughout her life, Marie had faced many challenges as a woman. In addition to not receiving enough financial rewards for her work, she also had to face opposition from male scientists. However, she did not let these challenges deter her pursuit of scientific excellence. Marie will always be remembered for her determination and dedication, and remain a source of inspiration to all scientists, especially women.