Marie Skłodowska Curie (born Maria Salomea Skłodowska;7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences, and was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.
She was born in Warsaw, in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw’s clandestine Flying University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and with physicist Henri Becquerel. She won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world’s first studies into the treatment of neoplasms were conducted using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I, she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals. She named the first chemical element that she discovered in 1898 polonium, after her native country.
Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at a sanatorium in Sancellemoz (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.
Awards, honours, and tributes
As one of the most famous women scientists to date, Marie Curie has become an icon in the scientific world and has received tributes from across the globe, even in the realm of pop culture. In a 2009 poll carried out by New Scientist, she was voted the “most inspirational woman in science”. Curie received 25.1 per cent of all votes cast, nearly twice as many as second-place Rosalind Franklin (14.2 per cent).
Poland and France declared 2011 the Year of Marie Curie, and the United Nations declared that this would be the International Year of Chemistry. An artistic installation celebrating “Madame Curie” filled the Jacobs Gallery at San Diego’s Museum of Contemporary Art. On 7 November, Google celebrated the anniversary of her birth with a special Google Doodle. On 10 December, the New York Academy of Sciences celebrated the centenary of Marie Curie’s second Nobel Prize in the presence of Princess Madeleine of Sweden.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win two Nobel Prizes, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences. Awards that she received include:
- Nobel Prize in Physics (1903, with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel)
- Davy Medal (1903, with Pierre)
- Matteucci Medal (1904, with Pierre)
- Actonian Prize (1907)
- Elliott Cresson Medal (1909)
- Nobel Prize in Chemistry (1911)
- Franklin Medal of the American Philosophical Society (1921)
Marie Curie’s 1898 publication with her husband and their collaborator Gustave Bémont for their discovery of radium and polonium was honored by a Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award from the Division of History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society presented to the ESPCI Paris (Ecole supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la Ville de Paris) in 2015.
In 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon, Paris. The curie (symbol Ci), a unit of radioactivity, is named in honour of her and Pierre Curie (although the commission which agreed on the name never clearly stated whether the standard was named after Pierre, Marie or both of them). The element with atomic number 96 was named curium. Three radioactive minerals are also named after the Curies: curite, sklodowskite, and cuprosklodowskite. The Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions fellowship program of the European Union for young scientists wishing to work in a foreign country is named after her. In Poland, she had received honorary doctorates from the Lwów Polytechnic (1912), Poznań University (1922), Kraków’s Jagiellonian University (1924), and the Warsaw Polytechnic (1926). In 1921, in the U.S., she was awarded membership in the Iota Sigma Pi women scientists’ society.
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