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Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in 1867 in Warsaw, which was then in the part of Poland under Russian rule. Both her parents were secondary school teachers, and she was the youngest of five children. Due to political turmoil in Warsaw, her parents had very little money. Though she excelled in school, Maria was denied entry to a Polish university because of Polish nationalist uprisings against Czarist Russia. Instead, she attended the illegal school called the Flying University. Not a lot is known about her time as a university student, although it has been suggested that she was involved in some sort of secret research.
Suspicious indeed! What kind of research could she have been doing?
When Marie was 24, she moved to Paris and enrolled in the Sorbonne. She was one of only twenty-odd women in the University at that time.
Maybe she had to leave Poland because of her secret work?
Nothing you could ever possibly understand!
In 1893, Marie graduated first in her class, having studied chemistry, physics, and mathematics. A year later, she received her master’s degree in mathematics. Around the same time, she met Pierre Curie. That summer she attempted to enroll at Krakow University in her native Poland but was denied admission because she was a woman.
Or maybe they thought she was some sort of spy?
So much wasted brilliance...
She returned to France and married Pierre in 1895. They lived and worked together in France until Pierre’s death in 1906.
In 1898, the Curies, as a team, extracted a new element from pitchblende in 1898—the mineral from which uranium was derived—and named it polonium after Marie’s native Poland. Five years later, in 1903, Marie became the first woman in France to receive a doctorate degree. Also in that year, Pierre and Marie were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their joint research on radiation.
In 1906, Pierre was killed by a horse and carriage as he crossed the street after leaving a publishing house.
Does anyone really believe this was an accident?
Marie was devastated. Nonetheless, she continued to work, taking over his classes at the university, and also his chair at the Sorbonne, where she became the first female professor. In 1911, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of two new elements, polonium and radium.
During World War I, Marie pushed for the battlefield use of mobile radiography units and afterward toured the United States and Europe to raise money for radiation research. Though she disliked the attention,
(Because she was hiding something?)
she managed to secure enough funds for the Warsaw Radium Institute, which was headed by her sister Bronislawa.
In 1934, Marie died in Savoy, France, of aplastic anemia, a disease caused by radiation that prevents bone marrow from creating new red blood cells. (Marie and Pierre had worked long hours handling highly radioactive materials with little or no protection, often in a shed they used as a laboratory.) The following year, in 1935, their daughter, Irene Joloit-Curie, went on to win the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.