Biography and Discoveries of Marie Curie
Marie curie was not born Marie, but was named Maria Sklodowska. She was born on November 7th, 1867 in War, Poland. She was born in a family of five children and was the last born of her parents, who were teachers (Curie 35). After the demise of her mother, she becomes a governess because her father could not finance her education. Curie did not let her passion for education die as she continued studying and reading at her own time.
She wanted to be a teacher so that she would be independent and never depend on others, but she lacked the finances to attend teacher training course or any higher education. Her elder sister Bronya later came to her rescue and offered her a place to live in Paris in 1891 with an opportunity to join a university (Goldsmith 48). The deal was, Marie works as a governess and help her sister raise fees for her studies and when she is done, they do the same to finance Marie’s studies.
Bronya finished her studies and Marie shifted to Paris at the age of 24. Her sister was by then married to a doctor from Poland. She traveled to France and without delay joined Sorbonne University. Where she learned mathematics and physics. Her insatiable desire for learning had led her to discover her love for the two subjects (Brian 14). While in Paris, she met Pierre Curie who by then was a scientist working in Paris and the two love-birds tied a knot a year later. By this time, even with all his expertise, Pierre was still an outsider in the scientific community of Paris. They had one thing in common though, to make impacts on the scientific field.
It was after marriage that she changed her name from Maria to Marie match the French spelling of her name. This French edition of her name has been used in all charity organizations and services that were named after her. Together, they joined research workers at a Paris’ school of physics and chemistry (Brian 8). It was while at school that the curies started their research on the invisible rays that comes from uranium. The rays were still a new discovery by made professor Henri Becquerel.
Becquerel discovered and demonstrated that the invisible rays could go through pictorial film, fog and solid matter. The rays could also make it possible for air to conduct electricity. His discovery did not attract the attention he had expected and later left it to concentrate on other important issues. It was Marie who got curious of these invisible rays that the professor was talking about. Her curiosity formed the basis of her discoveries which opened up the world to more discoveries in radioactivity.
Marie’s study on pitchblende had more radioactivity than pure uranium. Pitchblende contains traces of uranium and not entirely be uranium. This made her to believe that the radioactivity was not only caused by uranium alone but there were some elements who were involved in it too (Brian 67). Marie and her husband and set out to find out about the new element which could be a new chemical element amidst pessimism from other scientists, who did not see the logic of the study the Curies wanted to do.
Their research was rather manual. They collected samples of pitchblende and dissolved them in acid to enable them separate the various elements using standard analytical chemistry technique of those days. Their efforts paid later when they managed to get a black powder that was more radioactive than uranium; 330 times stronger. They named the element as polonium, which become the new element in the periodic table with atomic number 84. Their further inquiry showed that after the extraction of polonium, the liquid left equally had higher radioactivity. This meant that there was another element in pitchblende with a higher radioactivity, higher than even the polonium.
They called the element radium, but had not got a sample of it to display in 1898 when they published information about the newly discovered element (Brian 56). To have the sample meant that Marie must have a lot of pitchblende which was very expensive and she could not afford. She was later able to get in touch with a company that only used the uranium and left everything else in pitchblende as waste material. She bought a lot of the materials. This was advantageous because it was more radioactive than pitchblende but also cheaper. The figures below shows the position of radium in the periodic table (Ra)
The new acquisitions meant that the job had increased with more quantities to extract, grind, dissolve, filter, precipitate, collect, re-dissolve, crystallize and re-crystallize.the demanding and physical nature of their jobs made them exhausted physically coupled with periods of illnesses. Their illnesses are today linked to the effects of radius, a fact that they were oblivious of by then. The endeavor materialized when she managed to isolated radium chloride in 1902. The element had an atomic weight of 225.93
Curies were awarded alongside Henri Becquerel, a Nobel Prize for their selfless dedication to the work of radioactivity in 1903. Her thesis for a doctorate degree was also approved in the same year and the two continued to enjoy the fruits of their labor until 1906 when a calamity befell them. Pierre was killed in a road accident involving a horse and a cart. Through her indomitable spirit, she continued to work harder on their goals was later appointed a chair-person as a professor at Sorbonne University in the footsteps of her husband. She also lectured and provided guidelines on the topics that her husband left unfinished.
This zeal and determination by Marie was recognized and she received a second Nobel prize in 1911.the prize was for her discovery on how to measure radioactivity in chemistry. Her contributions in the radioactivity led to the university establishing two science laboratories for studying of radioactivity under her administration and another for research on cancer treatment (Koestler-Grack 20). She developed mobile x-ray units that she used to analyze soldiers’ injuries in the battlefront during the First World War. During her tenure as the Director of radiological services at Red Cross, she lobbied for cash and supplies across Paris and asked well wishers for vehicles that could be converted into mobile units. The figures below show some of the formulas invented by Marie
Formula for back reaction
She had her machines ready by October of 1914 and she set off to battle front. With her 17 years old daughter, Irene who helped in doing x-rays, locating bullets and fractures on the wounded soldiers. When the war ended, she continued her work in research, teaching and laboratory assignments at the university which added her more prizes and awards. She is one of the people who have ever received plentiful honorary degrees from a majority of university all around the world (Koestler-Grack 28). Some of the prizes she got included the ellan Richard research prize, which she got in 1921; the grand prix du marquis d’Argenteuil, which she received in 1923 and the Cameron prize from Edinburgh University in the year 1931.
Marie died in July 4th, 1938 from pernicious anemia at Sancellemoz Sanatorium. Her death was mainly due to the conditions she had developed in the course of her research work. She died at the age of 66. Leaving behind two daughters: Irene and Eve. Irene had followed on the steps of her mother and was credited for her discovery of artificial radiation, but later died from Leukemia; an illness associated with radiation. Eve studied and worked both as a writer and a journalist.
Former French president, Mitterrand ordered for re-burial of Marie and her husband Pierre at the pantheon making her the first woman to have a place at the Pantheon because of her accomplishments. The president said that was a necessary step to finally recognize the gender equality. Marie is recognized as the first woman to bring significant changes and developments in the field of science and her observation, deduction and prediction skills enabled her to flourish and succeed as a highly- respected scientist.
The selflessness of Marie and others like her paved way for other discoveries that were made in the field of physics, particularly in the 19th century. The discoveries have led to positive changes in the lives of human beings .although they never lived long enough to see the positive contributions influence humanity positively, modernity owes its glamour and riches to such scientist.
Brian, Denis. The Curies: A biography of the most controversial family in science. Wiley, 2005.
Curie, Eve. Madame Curie: a biography. Da Capo Press, 2001.
Goldsmith, Barbara. Obsessive genius: The inner world of Marie Curie. WW Norton & Company, 2005.
Koestler-Grack, Rachel A. Marie Curie: Scientist. Infobase Publishing, 2009.