A Marie Curie Science Feature
By: David Nathaniel N. Niro
“Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood.” This was imparted by the scientist of our interest today, who was credited for pioneering researches on radioactivity and on the discovery of the elements Radium and Polonium.
Maria Salomea Skłodowska Curie, better known as Marie Curie, was a Polish physicist and chemist. She was born on Warsaw, Poland in the year 1867.
Lack of money prevented her from formal higher education, but even so she found ways to learn something new each day. Having an unquenchable thirst for knowledge, Marie Curie is not someone who gives up just yet.
When an opportunity arose, she readily grasped the chance to be enrolled in a university and moved to France in 1891. Young as she was, she read and studied books to her heart’s desire. Upon entering Sorbonne University in Paris, she discovered her love for learning physics and mathematics.
It was in 1894 when she met Pierre Curie, her partner in science and in life. They first became research colleagues at the School of Chemistry and Physics in Paris. There, they pioneered work in invisible rays brought about by uranium, as recently discovered by Becquerel.
One of her notable innovations is the fact that the mineral pitchblende, which contains uranium ore, was more radioactive than pure uranium in itself. The substance’s radioactivity seemed to be so strong that she doubted if it was really the uranium alone which was causing such phenomenon. She looked for this “thing”, then later she realized she just discovered a new radioactive element. The powder that they extracted, later called Polonium, was 330 times more radioactive than uranium. However, the liquid that remained was still observed as very radioactive even after extracting polonium, so she and her husband believed that another radioactive element is present in this mineral – Radium. Despite financial problems (Pitchblende is significantly expensive), Marie Curie pushed through to seek knowledge accompanied by hazards that were yet to be realized during that time. Working with 20kg of mineral batches provided harsh radioactive environment, and in addition to that, their negligence and ignorance to the risks of radioactive materials eventually caused them to be ill. Her hardwork has paid off in 1902, when finally Marie Curie was able to isolate radium in the form of radium chloride from pitchblende.
Because of this, she had won a Nobel Prize in 1903. However, life seems to be unfair, for 3 years after, Marie’s life was struck with tragedy as her husband, Pierre, was killed in a street accident. Curie, strong and indomitable as she was, continued her life and further pursued her interests.
Countless contributions were also noted to her like her involvement in mobile X-ray units during WWI as the director of the Red Cross Radiological Service, and later as the head of the laboratory where she works in. It was reinforced with the numerous awards given to her by the scientific community.
During the course of her life, she empowered women for Marie Curie was the first of the many. She was the first woman to win a Noble Prize, and she did so twice in multiple science fields. She was also the first woman to be a professor at the University of Paris. Until her untimely death, she was the first woman to be entombed on her own merits, recognizing her steadfast spirit as a scientist and as a person.
In that way, she suffered, yet she conquered.