Women’s Scientific Pioneer by Mark Spalding

I was thinking the other day that there must be some interesting things happening in November other than Thanksgiving (that’s an easy one that I’ll talk about in a later post). I was wondering if any interesting people were born in November and just so happened to have Madame Curie pop into my head. And lo and behold, her birthday falls in the month of November! So, without further ado….

Madame Marie Curie was born Maria Salomea Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland on November 7th, 1867. Her life and work have been catalogued and retold in various forms over the last century, to include biographies, television biopics, various paintings and sculptures, as well as theatrical dramas. She is one of the pioneers in the field of Radioactivity and received numerous awards and accolades for her work in this regard despite the general misogynistic tendencies of the time. Case in point, shortly after receiving her doctorate from the University of Paris, and a few months before receiving her first Nobel Prize, Marie and her husband Pierre were invited to give a speech at the Royal Institution in London. But upon arriving she was informed that she would not be allowed to speak as she was a woman. Marie endured many hurdles due to her gender during her lifetime, but never allowed these obstacles to hinder her research.

Marie CurieWhile performing her work on radioactivity and its various sub fields, Marie managed to raise two daughters on her own (as Pierre had been killed in a roadside accident in 1906). She wasn’t completely alone in raising her children however, as she had the help of a Polish governess. Marie was adamant that the girls learn their native language as well as its customs. Eventually one of her daughters, Irene Joliot-Curie, won a Nobel Prize as well for work on the discovery of artificial radioactivity.

While I could retell much of what I have learned doing my research for this article, I thought I would just provide some highlights of Madame Curie’s life and then give you some helpful links to find out more.

Notable Accomplishments:

  • First woman to achieve a PHD degree from a French university
  • First Woman to become a professor at the École Normale Supérieure (1900) & the University of Paris (1906)
  • First woman to win the Nobel Prize
  • Won for both her theories on Radiation (1903) as well as Chemistry (1911)
  • First person to win the Nobel Prize in two different categories
  • Coined the term “Radioactivity”
  • Discovered the elements Radium & Polonium for which she won her second Nobel Prize
  • Developed techniques to isolate radioactive isotopes
  • Pioneered discoveries in radiation therapy for cancer
  • Created the Radium Institute in Paris to further research in the field of Radioactivity

Interesting Tidbits:

  • Ran a mobile x-ray unit at the front during WWI. An estimated 1 million French soldiers were treated by her during this time.
  • Carried small vials of radioactive isotopes (usually radium) on a regular basis in her coat pocket. She would show them to curious onlookers during her PR trips around the U.S.in the 1920s.
  • The “curie” is the international standard for radioactive emissions so named for Marie & Pierre’s work
  • Her research papers (and even her cookbook) are considered too dangerous to handle due to their being highly radioactive. They are stored in lead containers! Protective clothing must be worn in their presence.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie – a very good, not too long description of her life and work.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEV4KJBJvEg – a good “bullet point” type quick hit video.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r4jCTiGSuwU – very good, but the language is geared to teens more than preteens.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KWAsz59F8gA – Same guy as above, less bad language, more sciencey. It might be an expansion of the conversation if your child is interested in learning more. I really like the CrashCourse channel on youtube. Lots of information in short, edible chunks of videos ranging from history to science to literature and beyond.