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The genius of Marie Curie

Discoveries in radiation by a female scientist launched a new era unearthing some of science’s greatest secrets. Marie Curie also called as Madame Curie is one of the greatest names in the field of science.

Background

The young Maria, originally named Maria Sklodowska grew up in Warsaw. She was brilliant in academics from the very start but had to face lots of barriers.

Challenges faced by Marie

She was barred from pursuing higher education as she was a women. To defy this she enrolled herself in Floating University.  This institution provided clandestine education to Polish youth. She worked as a governess and tutor and by saving money she was eventually able to move to Paris to study at Sorbonne. In the Sorbonne institute by surviving mostly on bread and tea she was able to earn both a physics and mathematics degree. In Paris she met  physicist Pierre Curie who shared his lab and his heart with her. The pair got married and became a formidable scientific team. Marie Curie was also got interested in scientific field because of Henri Becquerel who discovered in 1896 that uranium spontaneously emitted a mysterious X ray like radiation  that could interact with photographic film.

Curie soon found that the strength of emission solely depended on quantity of element and was not affected by  physical or chemical changes. This lead her to conclude that emission was due to something within the atoms of elements.

A great feat achieved

Curie realised that uranium alone couldn’t be creating all the radiation by observing super radioactive ore called pitchblend. This is how in 1898 they reported two new elements, Polonium and Radium. They also coined the term Radioactivity this way.

By 1902 the Curie had extracted a tenth of a gram of pure Radium chloride salt from several tons of pitchblend.

Nobel Prize: The first female Nobel laureate

Henri Becquerel and Pierre Curie were nominated for Nobel Prize in Physics  but Pierre took a stand for his wife and three of them shared the Nobel Prize in 1903. This made Marie Curie the first female to win a Nobel Prize.

A tragedy

In 1906 Pierre was crushed by horse drawn cart while crossing a busy intersection. Marie immersed herself in research and became the first female professor at Sorbonne University.

Unique achievement

In 1911 Marie won yet another Nobel this time in chemistry for her earlier discovery of radium and polonium and her extraction and analysis of pure radium and it’s compounds. This made her the first and to this date only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different sciences.

Conclusion

She made her research useful in many domains. She opened mobile radiology units during World War I, and investigated radiations effects on tumors.

However these benefits to humanity came at her personal cost . She died in 1934 of bone marrow disease which is believed to be caused due to exposure to radiations.

Her revolutionary research laid the ground for our understanding of physics, chemistry technology, medicine and nuclear physics.

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