Marie Curie, Nobel-Prize Winning Physicist and Chemist (1867-1934)

Marie Curie, 1920

Marie Curie, 1920

Marie Curie was a pioneering physicist and chemist. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize – and the first person to win twice, for multiple sciences to boot (her family racked up a total of five Nobel Prizes – smart family!). She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and helped to develop x-ray machines.

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in 1867 in Poland, which at the time was part of the Russian Empire. She was the youngest of five children and her father was a physics teacher. She was a top student at school, but wasn't allowed to attend the men-only University of Warsaw so she studied at the "Floating University", a set of secret, informal classes held across the city. She and her sister Bronya pledged to work to finance each other's continuing educations.

Marie completed her Masters in Physics in Paris, where she met and married the scientist Pierre Curie. They both carried out pioneering scientific work, and discovered the theory of radioactivity (which she named) and two elements, polonium and radium. Together they won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903, but Pierre was tragically killed a few years later when he stepped in front of a horse-drawn wagon. They had two children.

In 1911 Marie won another Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry. She also founded the Curie Institute, still one of the world's top institutes for medical and scientific research. 

Marie died in 1934, aged 66, of radium exposure from the test tubes she had carried around in her lab coat pockets over the years, and from the mobile x-ray units she had helped to set up during World War One. In 1995 she and her husband were interred in the Pantheon in Paris, a great honour, and she is the only woman to be interred there.

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