“On this day in 1911, Polish-French physicist and chemist Marie Curie became the first person to be honoured with two Nobel Prizes.
The fifth and youngest child of teachers Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski, Curie was born Maria Salomea Sklodowska in Warsaw, Russian Poland. After completing her schooling and working for some time as a governess, in 1891, she traveled to Paris to study physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne. There, she found a scientific collaborator, and love, in Pierre Curie, a professor of physics. They were soon married and often worked together. In 1896, Curie’s doctoral advisor, Henri Bacquerel, discovered uranium salts emitted rays that behaved like x-rays in their penetration. Curie investigated the uranium rays and discovered that the uranium atom itself generated radiation. Aided by her husband Pierre, she also discovered other minerals that generated radiation, including radium and polonium, named after Curie’s native Poland. In 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie, along with Bacquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, which they shared.
Some three years later, Pierre Curie tragically died in a traffic accident when he was crushed by a horse and carriage. Psychologically, Curie, too, was crushed. Pierre had been her partner at work and home, and after his death she often experienced crushing loneliness and depression. She took care of their two daughters largely on her own, and took Pierre’s place as professor of general physics, the first time a woman had held the position. She also continued her research on radium and polonium, investigating their properties and usages. Eight years after receiving her first Nobel Prize, Curie was awarded a second one, the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, “”in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.””
Curie was the first woman awarded a Nobel Prize, the first person to be awarded a second Nobel Prize, and the only one to be honoured with a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She developed methods to separate radium from radioactive residues and recognised its therapeutic properties. As such, she promoted its use in World War I to treat injured soldiers.
Curie died of aplastic anemia, likely contracted from her exposure to radiation, on 4 July 1934. She is widely celebrated for her seminal advances in physics and chemistry, as well as for overcoming sexual barriers in the sciences. In 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Pantheon, Paris, alongside her husband, Pierre Curie.”
Credit: © Mary Evans Picture Library / Alamy
Caption: Marie Curie is widely celebrated for her seminal advances in physics and chemistry.