Marie Curie and her well-deserved “Nobel Prizes”

Adding simplicity and unpretentiousness in the face of success, Marie Curie represented a significant leap in the sciences, which earned her worldwide recognition, being awarded two Nobel Prizes.

Newsroom (September 4, 2021 1:00 PM Gaudium Press) Maria Sklodowska – also known as Madame Curie – was born in Warsaw in November 1867. The daughter of a physics and mathematics professor, she manifested an unusual interest in the exact sciences from a young age and decided to dedicate herself to them in her professional life. In the Polish capital, she studied mainly physics, making use of the intense teaching at the so-called “floating university”[1].

In 1891 he left for France to continue his scientific studies at the University of Paris. In just two years she received a degree in physics and started working in an industrial laboratory; however, her scientific research career really began in 1894 when she started dealing with various metals and ores.

It was during this period that Marie met Pierre Curie, an applied scientist like herself; they soon married, and together they continued the long research and experiments both had begun. The main initiative to which they gave themselves was to analyze uranium; experts had only recently discovered the potentials of this curious element, and the Curie’s maintained that there was something more.

To get her doctorate, Marie decided to develop what physicist Henri Becquerel had noticed when investigating uranium: the mysterious rays that came out of this element.[2]

Major discoveries

After endless work, in 1898 they managed to extract a new element from uranium, which they named polonium, no doubt in honour of Marie. Continuing their work, the couple eventually discovered a component hundreds of times more radioactive than uranium: radium.[3]

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However, the harmful effects of radiation were not yet known, and Marie, from constant handling of the radioactive components, suffered the first of many inflammations and organ abnormalities that would lead to her death. Nevertheless, the Curie discovered that cancerous or degenerated cells died on simple contact with radiation, while healthy cells endured longer; another fruit of Marie’s labours.

Grand Prizes

Interestingly, Marie never wished to be the first in what she did, such as not wanting to patent any of her discoveries, and therefore not receiving remuneration, so that they would be of universal use and domain.

She was awarded the famous Nobel Prize in physics by the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, along with Henry Becquerel and Pierre; she was the first woman in history to receive this award. She would go on to win a second Nobel in 1911, this time for chemistry, being the first person to receive two such prizes in different categories.

But what seemed most impressive to the academic world was her appointment to the chair of physics at the University of Paris, where never before had a woman taught.

Finally, she died in 1934 leaving a great scientific legacy, which her daughter, Irene Curie, carried forward as far as she could.[4] A peculiar story, whose consequences are difficult to measure in their breadth. Unlike most of her contemporaries, she did not allow herself to be eroded by fame, and she received the greatest laurels precisely because she did not seek them. According to the testimony of those who knew her, science knows few figures whose dedication to knowledge has been so complete.[5]

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By Jonas Ramos Mafort

Compiled by Zephania Gangl


Bibliographic Sources:

AUGÉ, Claude. Larousse Universel: Nouveau Dictionnaire Encyclopédique. Paris: Larousse, 1922, v.1.

LANGER, William. An Encyclopedia of World History. Cambridge: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1952.

JACKSON. Jackson’s Practical Encyclopedia: History of Science. São Paulo: Jackson, 1955, v. 8.

______. Jackson’s Practical Encyclopedia: Chemistry. São Paulo: Jackson, 1956, v. 12.

[1] Clandestine organization of university students who taught subjects studied in other establishments.

[2] Cf. JACKSON. Jackson’s Practical Encyclopedia: Chemistry. São Paulo: Jackson, 1956, v. 12, p.126.

[3] Term from the Latin radium; related to irradiate, to shine.

[4] One year after her mother’s death, Irene would give the Curie family another Nobel Prize: discovering artificial radioactivity, she was awarded a prize in chemistry together with her husband.

[5] Cf. JACKSON. Jackson’s Practical Encyclopedia: History of Science. São Paulo: Jackson, 1955, v. 8, p.385.


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