The Life of Marie Curie
The Life of Marie Curie
Feminabanu A M (IISER Bhopal), Sameeha VP (IISER TVM)
Marie suffered a tremendous loss on 19 April 1906 when Pierre was killed in Paris after accidentally stepping in front of a horse-drawn wagon. The sudden death of Pierre Curie was a bitter blow to Marie Curie, henceforth she was to devote all her energy to completing alone the scientific work that they had undertaken, but it was also a decisive turning point in her career: On May 13, 1906, she was appointed to the professorship that had been left vacant on her husband’s death. She was the first woman to teach in the Sorbonne. In 1908 she became a titular professor, and in 1910 her fundamental treatise on radioactivity was published. She also championed the development of X-rays after the death of her husband. In 1911 Marie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering the two elements, polonium, and radium. She was the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes and she became very famous. Scientists came from around the world to study radioactivity from Marie. Also after the death of Pierre, she joined with other famous scientists, including Albert Einstein and Max Planck, to attend the first Solvay Congress in Physics and discuss the many groundbreaking discoveries in their field.
When World War I started Marie devoted her time and resources to help the cause. And learned that doctors could use X-rays to help determine what was wrong with an injured soldier. However, there weren't enough X-ray machines for every hospital to have one. She came up with the idea that the X-ray machines could move from one hospital to another in a truck. She even helped to train people to run the machines. The trucks became known as “Petites Curies'', meaning "little Curies" and are thought to have helped over 1 million soldiers during the war. Soon doctors found that radiology could also help with curing cancer.
In 1921, accompanied by her two daughters, Marie made a triumphant journey to the United States, where President Warren Harding spoke at length, praising her “great attainments in the realms of science and intellect” and saying she represented the best in womanhood. “We lay at your feet the testimony of that love which all the generations of men have been wont to bestow upon the noblewoman, the unselfish wife, the devoted mother.”
Marie Curie (far right) and her daughter Irène (second from right) posing with their pupils from the American Expeditionary Forces at the Institut du Radium, Paris, 1919.