I’m super excited about today’s leading lady! I’ve been wanting to write about her for a while, but I also know she’s more well-known than others, and I’ve been wanting to highlight some ladies you may not have known about. But this woman is just too great NOT to write about! Today’s Her’s Day Thursday BAMF is: Marie Curie.
Marie Skłodowska (Curie) was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland to a family that had recently lost all of its fortune. Though many thought she and her siblings were doomed to live an impoverished life, Marie worked hard on her education. She attended a boarding school at the age of ten, having been taught by tutors until then. When she was older, she and her sister began their advanced studies at the Flying University—the only university that admitted female students in Warsaw.
Marie and her sister travelled to Paris in 1891 and enrolled at the University of Paris. Marie studied during the day and tutored students at night as a way to keep herself financially afloat. She earned a degree in physics in 1893 and continued her education, earning a second degree in 1894.
Marie began research into the properties of different kinds of steels and needed a laboratory to work. A fellow physicist introduced her to Pierre Curie, another scientist who had access to a large laboratory. Pierre allowed Marie to conduct her research at his lab and the two soon fell in love and married.
Marie went on to earn her PhD and became the first female professor at the University of Paris. Marie’s research continued as she discovered two elements: polonium and radium. She also coined the term “radioactivity” and found the methods for isolating radioactive isotopes.
She was awarded not one but two Nobel Prizes; once for physics in 1903 (which she shared with her husband and another physicist) and again for chemistry in 1911.
During World War I, Marie saw the need for mobile x-ray units to help doctors and battlefield surgeons on the front lines. She was soon appointed director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and trained other women to serve as aides. She also produced needles containing radon to use for sterilizing infected tissue.
During the war, Marie’s research went on the backburner. However, after the war, she continued her humanitarian work as well as her research. Marie Curie died in 1934, due to aplastic anemia—contracted from her exposure to radium over many, many years. The dangers of radium were unknown at the time, and Marie would carry test tubes of it in her pocket and leave it in her desk drawers. Even today some of Marie’s personal papers and belongings are considered dangerous because of the high levels of radioactivity.
Marie Curie was an innovator, a determined woman, and a scientist. Her legacy still lives on today.