Marie Curie

On this date in 1867, two-time Nobel Prize winner Marie S. Curie, née Sklodowska, was born in Warsaw, Poland. She abandoned her family's Roman Catholicism to become an agnostic as a teenager. Marie moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne in 1891, got her degree in math and married Pierre Curie in a civil ceremony. The couple had two daughters. Marie broke many barriers for her sex, becoming the first European woman to earn a science doctorate, as well as the first to be awarded a Nobel Prize, when she and Pierre were jointly awarded the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics for discovering polonium (named for her home country) and radium. Marie coined the very word "radioactive," and pursued its therapeutic properties. In 1906, Pierre was tragically run over and killed. Marie took over his professorship of general physics, winning another first for women. When she won the 1911 Nobel Prize for chemistry, she was the first person male or female to have received two Nobels. Yet that same year she was barred as a woman from the Academy of Sciences. She became director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris in 1914. She spent much of the remainder of her life pursuing her humanitarian goal of "easing human suffering." Their oldest daughter, Irene, with her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1935 for work in artificial radioactivity. Marie died at 67 of leukemia. She became the first woman to be interred at the Pantheon on her own merits. Eve, in her memoir of her mother, Mme. Curie (1937), described all family members as rationalists. D. 1934.

“Pierre belonged to no religion and I did not practice any.”

—Marie Curie, What Do I Read Next (1924), a memoir of Pierre Curie.

Compiled by Annie Laurie Gaylor

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