STEM GLAM GALLERY: MARIE CURIE
Marie Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867. Due to her mother’s death and loss of family property, Curie and her siblings faced lack of support for their education. Her father, a school teacher, could not financially support, but strongly encouraged Curie to pursue her interests in science. Curie also did not fail to seek knowledge and study. It was not possible for her to get a higher education at a regular school she wanted to because women were not allowed to attend college at those times. In her teenage years, she went to a secret school called “the Floating University”, that accepted female students and taught physics and history. Curie worked as a governess to support herself. Fortunately, at the age of 24, she got an opportunity to move to France and study at the Sorbonne University in Paris.
There, she started her new life. She worked hard and studied hard so much that self-deprivation of food intake made her weak and collapse several times. However, science was her joy. She earned degrees in physics and math in 1893-1894.
In 1894, she met her future husband, Pierre Curie, who was 8 years older than her. He was a physicist at a French technical college, whose major studies focused on crystals and magnetism. They both had a strong passion for science and the duo married in 1895. They had two daughters, Irène and Eve. Curie often got a negative look from her colleagues because she was so committed to her studies that she gave too little time for her daughters.
1890’s were the years when scientists were intrigued by Henri Becquerel’s observation on a different kind of X-rays emitted from uranium mineral salts. JJ. Thomson also discovered a negatively charged particle (we now call them “electrons.”) It was Curie who proposed a revolutionary hypothesis on a special relation between x-rays and electrons. Curie made the scientists to reconsider the widely-accepted theory that atoms are indivisible and basic particles of all matter. In 1898, she identified a new element, polonium which was named after her native country, Poland. Five years later, she discovered another element and named it radium. She described both elements as “radioactive.” Due to her work, she earned a Ph.D. in physics in 1903.
The Curies collaborated very successfully and earned a Nobel Prize in 1903. Sadly, Pierre died in 1906, which made Marie a widow. She gave no physical sign to mourn her loss of the love of her life, but she took her husband’s position and became the first female professor to teach in the University of Paris.
Marie Curie died in 1934 at the age of 66. Her death was due to the disease called aplastic anemia caused by high exposure to radiation that is from her radiological work. There is no doubt that Marie Curie was one of the humankind with extraordinary intelligence and intense dedication to passion and curiosity, who lit up the world of science.