Albert Einstein once stated “Marie Curie was the only person to be uncorrupted by fame”. Marie Curie, as distinct from the majority of scientists who became conceited after they rose to fame, indeed remained discreet and unpretentious throughout her life.
Marie Curie was born as Marya Sklodowska on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was the youngest of her three sisters and a brother. Her father, Wladislaw Sklodowsky held the post of high school science teacher, and her mother, Bronislawa Sklodowska, was the principal of a private school for girls (Cregan, 2009, p. 9).
According to Rau (2001), “Her childhood was not a bed of roses, not everything went without a hitch. Her father lost his job and they had to take in lodgers, whom her father tutored” (p. 7). Healy (2006) stated, “This severe environment led in 1876 to Manya’s eldest sister, Zosia, death of typhoid. The final frown of fortune came two years later, when her mother died of tuberculosis” (p. 11).
Healy (2006) found, “Shortly after mother’s death, Manya left school of J. Sikorska and began classes at a public school called Gymnasium Number Three. At the school Russian teachers were known to treat the Polish students inhumanely and inequitably. Nevertheless, Marya dedicated herself to studies and achieved success. At the age of 15 she graduated from high school with a gold medal” (p. 11). Cregan and Weir’s (2009) study found the following:
Although she wanted a college education, Polish girls were not allowed to attend a university. Maria and her older sister, Bronia, came to an agreement. Manya would work as a tutor to help pay for Bronia to go to medical school. Once Bronia received her medical degree, she would help pay for Maria’s education. The plan worked. (p. 9).
Borzendowski (2009) stated, “At first Maria took up a position as governess. After her tutoring work she, with the help of Mr. Zorawski, began teaching children at school in Szczuki. Owing to her job, Manya had not much time to continue her studying. It continued till 1891, when at the age of 24 Marie enrolled at the Sorbonne” (p. 18). Most of all she adored science classes and devoted herself to chemistry classes and physics. After gaining a graduate degree in 1894, Marie was offered a job of studying magnets and began her scientific career (Cregan, 2009, p. 10).
According to Rau (2001), “The same year Marie got acquainted with a French scientist, Pierre Curie, who worked as a teacher and was an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry” (p. 8). As it was found by Cregan (2009), “In July 1895, Marie and Pierre got married in Sceaux, Pierre’s native town. A year later Pierre became a professor at the Sorbonne and Marie was his assistant. Soon Marie gave birth to two daughters, Irene and Eve. Due to the fact that it was difficult for a woman to conduct a scientific survey alone, that is why she chose to work in a team with her husband. Together they continued working on the discovery of elements and radiation. They spent much time on the study of different elements, energy they reveal, separation of elements and in June 1898, the Curies discovered a new element. Marie called it polonium, after her motherland, Poland” (p. 15). She also stated:
Marie didn’t think of radiation as the right word to describe the energy such elements as polonium revealed. That is why she coined the word radioactive to describe this type of radiation. (p. 16).
According to Weir, “The second but not less important was the discovery of another active element, which she called radium. By 1903, Marie accomplished her doctoral thesis – Research on Radioactive Substances” (p. 17). McGrayne (2001) stated, “Her most important contribution to science was simple but groundbreaking discovery, in which she deduced that radioactivity does not depend on how atoms are arranged into molecules, but originates within the atoms themselves. For her work, Marie Curie won a thirty-eight-hundred-franc prize from the French Academy of Sciences. In December 1903 Curies won the first Nobel Prize in Physics and on November 4, 1911, Marie Curie was awarded the second Nobel Prize for her discovery of radium. Pierre died in a road accident on 19 April 1906 and Marie continued her research on her own. She dedicated the rest of her life to building a French research institute for the study of radioactivity. When the Radium Institute opened after World War I, Marie was more than fifty years old, ill and fatigued” (p. 22, 31).
According to McGrayne (2001), “On July 4, 1934, Curie died of leukemia in a nursing house in the French Alps. She was buried at the cemetery Sceaux, alongside her husband Pierre” (p. 36).
Marie Curie was a pioneer in science and throughout her life made a vast contribution to it. She was the first female professor in France and the first who won the Nobel Prize.