Maria Sklodowska-Curie

Maria Sklodowska-Curie
became the first Pole
to receive a Nobel Prize.
Maria (Marie Fr.) Sklodowska-Curie (born in Warsaw, Poland, on November 7, 1867) was one of the first woman scientists to win worldwide fame, and indeed, one of the great scientists of this century. She had degrees in mathematics and physics. Winner of two Nobel Prizes, for Physics in 1903 and for Chemistry in 1911, she performed pioneering studies with radium and polonium and contributed profoundly to the understanding of radioactivity.

Perhaps the most famous of all women scientists, Maria Sklodowska-Curie is notable for her many firsts:

She received 15 gold medals, 19 degrees, and other honors.

Maria Sklodowska was born as the fifth and youngest child of Bronsilawa Boguska, a pianist, singer, and teacher, and Wladyslaw Sklodowski, a professor of mathematics and physics. When she was little and living in Poland, her nickname was Manya. From childhood she was remarkable for her prodigious memory, and at the age of 16 she won a gold medal on completion of her secondary education at the Russian lycée. Because her father, a teacher of mathematics and physics, lost his savings through bad investment, she had to take work as a teacher and, at the same time, took part clandestinely in the nationalist "free university," reading in Polish to women workers. At the age of 18 she took a post as governess, where she suffered an unhappy love affair. From her earnings she was able to finance her sister Bronia's medical studies in Paris, on the understanding that Bronia would in turn later help her to get an education.

In 1891 Maria Sklodowska went to Paris and began to follow the lectures of Paul Appel, Gabriel Lippmann, and Edmond Bouty at the Sorbonne. There she met physicists who were already well known--Jean Perrin, Charles Maurain, and Aimé Cotton. Sklodowska worked far into the night in her students'-quarter garret and virtually lived on bread and butter and tea. She came first in the licence of physical sciences in 1893. She began to work in Lippmann's research laboratory and in 1894 was placed second in the licence of mathematical sciences. It was in the spring of this year that she met Pierre Curie.

Maria Sklodowska is daughter of a Polish freethinker but reared by a Catholic mother. She abandoned the Church before she was 20 and her marriage with Pierre Curie was a purely civil ceremony because she says in her memoir of him, Pierre belonged to no religion and I did not practice any.

Their marriage (July 25, 1895) marked the start of a partnership that was soon to achieve results of world significance, in particular the discovery of polonium (so called by Maria in honour of Poland) in the summer of 1898, and that of radium a few months later. Following Henri Becquerel's discovery (1896) of a new phenomenon (which she later called "radioactivity"), Maria Curie, looking for a subject for a thesis, decided to find out if the property discovered in uranium was to be found in other matter. She discovered that this was true for thorium at the same time as G.C. Schmidt did.

Turning to minerals, her attention was drawn to pitchblende, a mineral whose activity, superior to that of pure uranium, could only be explained by the presence in the ore of small quantities of an unknown substance of very high activity. Pierre Curie then joined her in the work that she had undertaken to resolve this problem and that led to the discovery of the new elements, polonium and radium. While Pierre Curie devoted himself chiefly to the physical study of the new radiations, Maria Curie struggled to obtain pure radium in the metallic state--achieved with the help of the chemist A. Debierne, one of Pierre Curie's pupils. On the results of this research Maria Curie received her doctorate of science in June 1903 and, with Pierre, was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society. Also in 1903 they shared with Becquerel the Nobel Prize for Physics for the discovery of radioactivity.

The birth of her two daughters, Irene and Eve, in 1897 and 1904 did not interrupt Maria's intensive scientific work. She was appointed lecturer in physics at the École Normale Supérieure for girls in Sévres (1900) and introduced there a method of teaching based on experimental demonstrations. In December 1904 she was appointed chief assistant in the laboratory directed by Pierre Curie.

The sudden death of Pierre Curie (April 19, 1906) was a bitter blow to Maria Curie, but it was also a decisive turning point in her career: henceforth she was to devote all her energy to completing alone the scientific work that they had undertaken. On May 13, 1906, she was appointed to the professorship that had been left vacant on her husband's death; she was the first woman to teach in the Sorbonne. In 1908 she became titular professor, and in 1910 her fundamental treatise on radioactivity was published. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, for the isolation of pure radium. In 1914 she saw the completion of the building of the laboratories of the Radium Institute (Institut du Radium) at the University of Paris.

Throughout World War I, Maria Curie, with the help of her daughter Irène, devoted herself to the development of the use of X-radiography. In 1918 the Radium Institute, the staff of which Irène had joined, began to operate in earnest, and it was to become a universal centre for nuclear physics and chemistry. Maria Curie, now at the highest point of her fame, and, from 1922, a member of the Academy of Medicine, devoted her researches to the study of the chemistry of radioactive substances and the medical applications of these substances.

In 1921, accompanied by her two daughters, Maria Curie made a triumphant journey to the United States, where President Warren G. Harding presented her with a gram of radium bought as the result of a collection among American women. She gave lectures, especially in Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Czechoslovakia. She was made a member of the International Commission on Intellectual Co-operation by the Council of the League of Nations. In addition, she had the satisfaction of seeing the Curie Foundation in Paris develop and the inauguration in 1932 in Warsaw of the Radium Institute, of which her sister Bronia became director.

On July 4, 1934, near Sallanches (France), Maria Sklodowska-Curie died of leukemia (aplastic pernicious anemia of rapid, feverish development), caused by her exposure to the radium that made her famous.

In 1995 Maria Sklodowska-Curie's ashes were enshrined in the Panthéon in Paris; she was the first woman to receive this honour for her own achievements.

One of Maria Sklodowska-Curie's outstanding achievements was to have understood the need to accumulate intense radioactive sources, not only for the treatment of illness but also to maintain an abundant supply for research in nuclear physics; the resultant stockpile was an unrivaled instrument until the appearance after 1930 of particle accelerators. The existence in Paris at the Radium Institute of a stock of 1.5 grams of radium in which, over a period of several years, radium D and polonium had accumulated, made a decisive contribution to the success of the experiments undertaken in the years around 1930 and in particular of those performed by Irene Curie in conjunction with Frederic Joliot, whom she had married in 1926. This work prepared the way for the discovery of the neutron by Sir James Chadwick and above all the discovery in 1934 by Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie of artificial radioactivity. A few months after this discovery Maria Curie died as a result of leukemia caused by the action of radiation. Her contribution to physics had been immense, not only in her own work, the importance of which had been demonstrated by the award to her of two Nobel Prizes, but because of her influence on subsequent generations of nuclear physicists and chemists.

"My mother was 37 years old when I was born. When I was big enough to know her, she was already an aging woman who had reached the summit of renown. And yet it is the 'celebrated scientist' who is strangest to me - probably because the idea that she was a 'celebrated scientist' did not occupy the mind of Marie Curie. It seems to me rather, that I have always lived near the poor student, haunted by dreams, who was Marie Sklodowska long before I came into the world."
Eve Curie, biographer of her mother
Albert Einstein once said of her:
"Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the one whom fame has not corrupted."
Source: Madame Curie by Irene Curie, DaCapo Press 1937
Citation from The Graduate Student Cookbook:
"Marie Curie: Overachiever who cooked, cleaned, discovered radium, and raised a Nobel Prize-winning daughter, but who never forgot how to make a good pierogi."
Quotes of Maria Sklodowska-Curie:
A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician: he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales.
Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.
Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only to be understood.
One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.
One of our pleasures was to enter our workshop at night; then, all around us, we would see the luminous silhouettes of the beakers and capsules that contained our products.

ID: 000050
Name: Marie Sklodowska Curie
Degree: Doctor of Science
Date: June 14, 1921, the One Hundred Twentieth Convocation
Title: Professor of Radiology, University of Warsaw, Poland; Professor of Science, University of Paris, France
Citation: Scientist, discoverer, and author of international reputation, significant figure in the development of the new science of radioactivity, Nobel laureate both in 1903 and 1911, discoverer of the new elements polonium and radium; for these services and especially for the new insight which your discoveries have given into the nature of matter, and the new stimulus which they have been to the development of human thought.

. Flash !
100 years after discovery of polonium and radium

Over one hundred scientists from 13 countries, among them 12 Nobel prize winners (Baruch Blumberg [1976], Paul Crutzen [1995], Chris de Duve [1973], Leo Esaki [1973], Jerome Friedman [1990], Jerome Karle [1985], Edvard Levis [1995], Rudolf Mossbauer [1961], Burton Richter [1976], Joseph Rotblat [1995], Sherwood Rowland [1995] and Carlo Rubbia [1984]) and Maria Sklodowska-Curie' granddaughter Helene Langevin-Joliot are attending the conference on "The discovery of radium and polonium - scientific and philosophical consequences" which opened in Warsaw Thursday (September 17, 1998) to discuss prospects of the contemporary physics and natural sciences, global ecological threats and the responsibility of scientists for the results of their research. The conference is the highlight of the two-years long now celebrations of the centenary of the discovery of radium and polonium by the Polish-born researcher Maria Sklodowska-Curie. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said he would like the conference to initiate a series of annual "Warsaw meetings" of scholars with politicians and representatives of economic circles, similar to the Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland.

Warsaw, September 17, 1998





1 8 9 8     -     1 9 9 8
Po English: polonium | French: polonium | German: Polonium | Italian: polonio | Polish: polon | Spanish: polonio
Discoverer   Marie Curie
Discovered at   France
Discovery date   18.07.1898
Origin of name   Named after "Poland" (birthplace of Marie Curie)
Polonium was the first element discovered by Marie Sklodowska Curie in 1898, while seeking the cause of radioactivity of pitchblende from Joachimsthal, Bohemia. It required several tonnes of pitchblende to produce very small amounts of polonium.
Ra English: radium | French: radium | German: Radium | Italian: radio | Polish: rad | Spanish: radio
Discoverer   Marie and Pierre Curie
Discovered at   France
Discovery date   26.12.1898
Origin of name   From the Latin word "radius" meaning "ray"
Radium was discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie in pitchblende (or uraninite) from North Bohemia. The element was isolated in 1911 by Mme. Curie and Debierne by the electrolysis of a solution of pure radium chloride, employing a mercury cathode. On distillation in an atmosphere of hydrogen this amalgam yielded the pure metal.
© 1993-1998 WebElements by Mark Winter [University of Sheffield, England]

Centennial of the Discovery of Radioactivity

Marie and Pierre Curie and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium by Nanny Fröman

Polonium & Radium & Curium from WebElements

Polonium & Radium & Curium from The Periodic Table of the Elements on the Internet
A Curie unit is defined as the activity of 1 gram of radium; 3.7 x 1010 disintegrations (that's 10 to the 10th power).

Maria Sklodowska-Curie at work

in Paris laboratory working together with her husband Pierre Curie extracted from pitchblende a new metal, the radioactive element polonium (which they named in honour of Poland) and radium
in Brussel participating in the famous Solvay Conferences, 1911 & 1927
in Roma participating in the Nuclear Physics Congress, 1931

Related links

"Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity" is offered by the Center for History of Physics at the American Institute of Physics. The exhibit was written by Naomi Pasachoff, author of a book on Madame Curie. The exhibit covers every aspect of Marie Curie's career, including her turbulent youth, her entry into science and the discoveries that won her two Nobel prizes, her marriage and complex emotional life, her creation of medical services at the Front during the First World War, her foundation of the Radium Institute as a world scientific center, and her legacy including her daughter Irene, another Nobel-winning scientist. The exhibit is augmented by 90 striking illustrations and English translations of articles by Marie Curie, plus supplementary pages explaining the science of radioactivity in simple language. The entire exhibit has been checked and corrected by leading historians of science, with the cooperation of the French Association Curie et Joliot-Curie and the Museum and Archives of the Radium Institute, Paris.

Le Musée du Laboratoire Curie de l'Institut du Radium, Paris
Marie Curie-Sklodowska (1867-1934) from Centre de Calcul Recherche et Réseau Jussieu
Marie Curie - The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903 from The Nobel Foundation
Marie Curie - The Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1911 from The Nobel Foundation
Portrait of Maria Sklodowska-Curie from California Institute of Technology Photos of Marie Curie from American Institute of Physics

Maria Curie Walking Tour in Paris

Maria Curie
Maria Curie - 1903 Nobel Laureate in Physics
Maria Curie - 1911 Nobel Laureate in Chemistry
Maria Sklodowska-Curie: Her life as a media compendium
Madame Marie Sklodowska Curie: An Extraordinary Life of Breaking Boundaries
Marie Curie - French Physicist
The Life and Work of Marie Curie
Marie Curie: Distinguished Physicist
Marie Curie: Remarkable Scientist
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Curie, Marie (1867-1934)
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Marie Sklodowska Curie (1867-1934)
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More books
Malaspina Great Books
Madame Marie Curie
Marie Curie and the History of Radioactivity
from National Museum of Science & Industry
Madame Curie from Science Hero
Marie Curie from Women's History Encyclopedia
Marie Curie from Women in Physics Herstory
Marie Curie from Women in Science, Hall of Fame
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie
Marie Curie [in French]
Marie Curie decouvre L'Amerique [in French]
De Koerier brengt biografiek [in Dutch]
Wie was Marie Curie? [in Dutch]
Marie Curie und Lise Meitner [in German]
Marie Curie [in Hungarian]
Dialoghi con Madame Curie [in Italian]
Marie Curie': a life sparked by discovery and despair
Figures in Radiation History (Pierre & Marie Curie)
Marie Curie - A Nobel Prize Pioneer at the Panthéon
Ashes of Marie Curie Enshrined First Women Honored at Memorial to France's 'Great Men'
A Nobel Prize Pioneer at the Panthéon
Maria Sklodowska-Curie Museum in Warszawa: in Polish & in English
Marie Curie and her discovery of Radium
Curie-Ra-100th HomePage [in Japanease]
Books about Marie Curie (1867-1934) Malaspina Great Books
The Cities of Madame Curie
Madame Curie from Teach With Movies
Maria Curie on CD-ROM from Powers of Ten Interactive
Maria Sklodowska-Curie on stamps

Dear Chemistry: Letters from Pierre from The Periodic Table of Poetry
Marie and Pierre Curie: Poster no 53 and Poster no 59 from Belgian Museum of Radiology
Curie form Electric Library or mirror The Curie Family, French scientists
Irene Joliot-Curie
Irene Joliot-Curie
Eve Curie Labouisse
Frederic Joliot-Curie
Helene Langevin-Joliot
Helene Langevin-Joliot

Isabelle Huppert as Maria Curie
and Charles Berling as Pierre Curie
in film "Les Palmes de M. Schutz", 1996

Marie Curie Fellowship Association
Marie Curie Fellowship Association - UK Group
Marie Curie Fellowship Association - French Group
Marie Curie Research Training Grants
European Forum for "Marie Curie Fellowship Association"

Université Pierre et Marie Curie
Curie Institute
The Marie Curie Research Institute
Unidad de Ultrasonido Curie
Marie Curie Cancer Care
Ecole Supérieure de Physique et de Chimie Industrielles of Paris

Craters of Maria Sklodowska-Curie        NASA: Current plans are to send the Marie Curie Rover
to Mars on the 2001 lander.

on the Moon
Lat: 18.2S, Long: 95.5E
Diameter: 127 km
(from Clementine mission)

on the Mars
Lat: 2.8W, Long: 33.8N
Diameter: 116 km
(from Viking Orbiter mission)

This rover is very similar to the Pathfinder Sojourner Rover, 1997.

Coin of Maria Sklodowska-Curie, 10 Polish zloty, 1967 100 years of Polonium and Radium
20 & 2 Polish zloty, 17.06.1998




New 500 French francs
honoring the Curie's research on radioactivity
       Stamps of Curie's, Polish Post Office







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Last Updated: April 3, 2001

NOTE: I receive many letters with question: "I have to do a bibliography". So:
Zb.Zwolinski, (Ed.). Maria Sklodowska-Curie, 1867-1934. <>.