Marie and Pierre Curie: a marriage of true minds
Unable to continue her studies in Poland because universities did not admit women, Maria Sklodowska Curie traveled to Paris in to attend the Sorbonne. Question: Why did she not return to Poland? Answer: Marie stayed in France after she met a French scientist, Pierre Curie, in the spring of Kids learn about the biography of Marie Curie, woman scientist who worked on Biography: Where did Marie Curie grow up? In Marie met Pierre Curie.
Growing up the child of two teachers, Marie was taught to read and write early. She was a very bright child and did well in school. She had a sharp memory and worked hard on her studies. Tough Times in Poland As Marie grew older her family came upon tough times.
Poland was under the control of Russia at the time. People were not even allowed to read or write anything in the Polish language.
Her father lost his job because he was in favor of Polish rule. Then, when Marie was ten, her oldest sister Zofia became sick and died from the disease typhus. Two years later her mother died from tuberculosis.
This was a difficult time for the young Marie. After graduating from high school, Marie wanted to attend a university, but this wasn't something that young women did in Poland in the s.
The university was for men. However, there was a famous university in Paris, France called the Sorbonne that women could attend. Marie did not have the money to go there, but agreed to work to help pay for her sister Bronislawa to go to school in France, if she would help Marie after she graduated.
Biography: Marie Curie for Kids
School in France It took six years, but, after Bronislawa graduated and became a doctor, Marie moved to France and entered the Sorbonne. During the six years Marie had read a lot of books on math and physics. She knew she wanted to become a scientist.
Marie arrived in France in In order to fit in, she changed her name from Manya to Marie. Marie lived the life of a poor college student, but she loved every minute of it. She was learning so much.
After three years she earned her degree in Physics. In Marie met Pierre Curie. Like Marie, he was a scientist and the two of them fell in love. They married a year later and soon had their first child, a daughter named Irene. Scientific Discoveries Marie became fascinated by rays that were recently discovered by scientists Wilhelm Roentgen and Henri Becquerel.
Roentgen discovered X-rays and Becquerel had found rays given off by an element called uranium. Marie began to do experiments. She expected there to be a few rays from the uranium in pitchblende, but instead Marie found a lot of rays. She soon realized that there must be a new, undiscovered element in pitchblende. New Elements Marie and her husband spent many hours in the science lab investigating pitchblende and the new element. They eventually figured out that there were two new elements in pitchblende.
They had discovered two new elements for the periodic table! Marie named one of the elements polonium after her homeland Poland. She had found the man most like herself. Pierre and Marie were married in July in a simple civil ceremony. The honeymoon over, they set to work with a common will, though the regimen also seemed idyllic to these lovers enamored of science as of each other.
In The Curiesa detailed, vivid, and lucid account, Denis Brian describes the passion that went into their orderly domestic routine, which is to say decorous romance and labor for the highest ends. In the study of their small bare-bones apartment, the newlyweds sat face-to-face across a white table — no additional chairs for interlopers — and swotted away, often well into the night. Pierre was developing new courses for the School of Physics and Chemistry, and Marie aspiring to teach physics at a new secondary school for girls; naturally she scored the top grade on the exam for would-be teachers.
Beginnings of a Breakthrough Soon Marie had bigger things in mind than teaching school. Wondrous new developments in experimental physics entranced her, and she wanted in on the action. Though no women in France had yet done so, Marie intended to get her doctorate in physics.
Marie wanted to pursue this hot topic in her dissertation, but Pierre steered her toward a lesser-known one: This phosphorescence could not have been caused by any known rays, such as visible or ultraviolet light, since the glass tube was covered with black cardboard that would have contained them.
The purely accidental discovery that the rays also penetrated flesh would transform medical practice, and fast. Of course, there were those who perceived satanic peril in the discovery, like the distinguished statesman from New Jersey who undertook to ban X-rays as an incitement to public lewdness, and the other American geniuses of the Purity League who wanted a law forbidding X-ray opera glasses. Serious persons, however, recognized the import of the discovery.
Becquerel surmised that it was not cathode rays from a vacuum tube that produced X-rays, but that instead the very phosphorescent materials, activated by sunlight, were the point of origin.
What he found was different and totally unexpected. He placed phosphorescent uranium salts on a photographic plate, laid the plate on a windowsill so that sunlight could do its work, and developed the plate, on which he could see a dim silhouette of the salts.
The sunlight, he reckoned, must be the trigger. To confirm his findings, he next placed a copper cross on the plate with the uranium salts; but there was no sunlight on that rainy February day, so Becquerel swathed his materials in a black cloth and secreted the lot in a drawer to wait for favorable conditions.
The rain, however, kept up for days. When he took out the bundle and developed the plate five days later, to his amazement the image of the cross showed clear as could be. Becquerel could not understand what he had found, for science had believed it impossible: He figured that some external energy source must have provoked the emission. The so-called Becquerel rays, with their promise of vast, uncharted scientific territory, enticed the Curies.
Not much had been written on the subject, so Marie largely needed to make her own way. When a uranium compound is placed on a metal plate A situated opposite another plate B and a difference in [electric] potential is maintained between the plates A and B, an electric current is set up between plates; this current can be measured with accuracy She was describing an elementary Geiger counter. Devising the apparatus took the ingenuity of an experimental wizard, and handling it required the finesse of a master surgeon.
Radioactive Discovery Marie soon discovered that the intensity of radiation emitted by uranium rays did not depend on its physical or chemical state, but on the amount of uranium, and that therefore the emission was an atomic property of the element.
The want of thoroughness can be a gross scientific flaw, but it was not hers: A few elements were somewhat radioactive; thorium proved more so than uranium. What really set off her measuring apparatus, though, was pitchblende, a black ore mined on the German-Bohemian border; uranium had already been extracted from the mineral, for use in fine ceramic glazes, so the super-potent radioactivity Marie detected was a mystery, and a trial.
Measurements had to be repeated many times to make sure no crucial error had been made. The more Marie measured, the more excited she grew: No other scientists ever took more elaborate pains than they did in seeing their work to completion.
Their initial work indeed produced substances many hundreds of times more radioactive than uranium, suggesting the presence of some new, unknown element. Eventually, after months of painstaking work, the Curies were able to purify the substance enough that spectroscopic analysis showed an absorption of wavelengths of light that could not be caused by any previously known elements.
This method gave additional evidence for the existence of a new element, which Marie called polonium, after her native country.
Within months, the Curies had also discovered radium, which, millions of times more radioactive than uranium, would become her signature achievement.
But as Goldsmith writes, the process by which these discoveries were made was as revelatory and far-reaching as the discoveries themselves: Her greatest achievement was in employing an entirely new method to discover elements by measuring their radioactivity. In the next decade scientists who located the source and composition of radioactivity made more discoveries concerning the atom and its structure than in all the centuries that had gone before.
At this point, however, her discovery remained incomplete, unfounded, theoretical. If the Spiritualist professions were true, Pierre wrote, they would be among the most important scientific discoveries ever. Harder heads resisted the claims both of Spiritualism and of the latest physics.
Identifying the elements by their radiation was not the same as isolating and weighing them. So the ordeal — for an ordeal it was — got underway.
After a few months of further work it became apparent that radium would be separated, seen, and weighed more easily than polonium; it also became clear that an immensity of pitchblende was necessary to yield any appreciable amount of radium.
The Curies needed more work space, and they needed an open-handed donor to provide them with tons of pitchblende. The Sorbonne, customarily forthcoming with facilities for importunate scientists, turned down their request.
The School of Physics and Chemistry could offer the Curies only a former cadaver lab that had fallen into desuetude, broiling in summer, freezing in winter, leaking when it rained or snowed.
Goldsmith cites the disbelief of the Nobel laureate in chemistry Wilhelm Ostwald that anything serious could be accomplished there: They broke down the pitchblende into its constituent elements, through a series of operations staggering in their physical difficulty and stultifying in their tedium. The toil exacted a severe price. Pierre was suffering bone pain, and Marie showed symptoms of tuberculosis; but neither would rest.
Both husband and wife found the glowing blue treasure enchantingly beautiful. Life sped up vertiginously. Later that year Marie and Pierre, along with Henri Becquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics for their pathbreaking work on radioactivity. Certain influential scientists did not want to grant Marie a share of the honor.
On This Day: Marie and Pierre Curie Discover Radium
Four French grandees, including three who were very familiar with her work, submitted an official nomination touting Pierre and Becquerel as sole discoverers, for the honor of the fatherland. It was sexism and xenophobia of a scurviness one might expect only from distinguished colleagues and supposed friends. Fortunately, a brilliant and sympathetic Swedish mathematician on the Nobel committee informed Pierre before the fact that his wife was to be left out, and Pierre replied that in that case he would not accept the prize for himself.
After much bureaucratic commotion, Marie was added to the list of honorees: Nobel Prizes set things into motion. That the Curies had toiled in such dinginess and obscurity embarrassed even the French. The government endowed a new chair for Pierre at the Sorbonne; only tough negotiation, however, got him a promise of his own laboratory and a position for Marie as head of research.
Meanwhile, radium became all the rage. High-minded devotion to the humanitarian ideals of science decided the Curies against patenting their discovery; but there was no shortage of opportunists hot to cash in. Redniss lists two dozen ailments, from anemia to gastric neurosis to prostatitis, that one purveyor of radium to the credulous claimed to cure. In Pierre had attached a tube of radium to his arm for ten hours.
However, as Goldsmith points out, until the s pure radium was so scarce and costly that its use against cancer was uncommon.
While radium itself has now fallen out of therapeutic favor, radiation therapy is now of course a mainstay of cancer treatment. Radium presented grave dangers, however.
The patent-medicine radium cure-alls were generally diluted hundreds of thousands of times in some bromide or other, but the radioactivity remained uncommonly strong, and it could do immense harm. A prominent American industrialist hooked on the putative restorative powers of the miracle elixir Radithor saw his face cave in from cancer of the jaw. Factory girls in New Jersey painting radium watch dials, who licked their brushes to put a finer point on them, died of radiation poisoning.
People who definitely ought to have known better were not careful, and were not immune. Amputation, blindness, and sterility plagued key researchers. The Curies themselves understood that radiation could do serious damage but somehow did not believe it would damage them. The facts proved otherwise, though to the end the Curies did not connect their physical agonies with their mental triumphs.
Their entire lab was toxic Radioactivity had made the Curies immortal. Now it was killing them. Mme Curie, on that day in April, became not only a widow, but at the same time a pitiful and incurably lonely woman.
They filled the grave and put sheaves of flowers on it. Everything is over, Pierre is sleeping his last sleep beneath the earth; it is the end of everything, everything, everything.
On This Day: Marie and Pierre Curie Discover Radium
I shall not kill myself. I have not even the desire for suicide. But among all these vehicles is there not one to make me share the fate of my beloved? Her first lecture in his stead, to a packed auditorium that November, was expected to be a tearjerker. In fact it was an emotionless summation of the great leap forward in physics over the past twelve years.
Although her principal interests were now practical, she did not shy from a fierce theoretical fight. Goaded by the humiliating challenge, she would spend three years obtaining pure radium and working out its atomic weight with uncanny precision. The earth is now thought to be 4. The romance would have been perfect if not for the perennial hitch: Langevin was married, and to a termagant with a penchant for knocking her husband around. The timing was especially inauspicious for Marie, who had just been awarded another Nobel Prize, this one in chemistry, for the discoveries of polonium and radium, and for furthering the knowledge of radium.
She was the first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes. One need not think highly of adultery to be disgusted at the way she was vilified. Redniss bites into the journalistic loathsomeness until the juices spurt: Marie was cast as the conniving tramp who had ensorcelled a married man. Worse, she was a dangerous foreigner — a Jew! Meanwhile, all the unseemliness was making the Nobel committee regret its decision.
Swedish notables pressured Marie not to come to Stockholm for the award ceremony. Marie faced down the moralizing opposition, stood by the integrity of her work as the only thing that ought to matter to the scientific community, and showed up in December to accept her prize.
- Marie Curie (1867 - 1934)
- Marie and Pierre Curie: a marriage of true minds
But her romance with Langevin was ending, and the strain of events broke her down. She fell into the worst depression of her life. Suicide appeared the most inviting option. She held off with difficulty. She sought refuge with a woman mathematician friend in England, and pulled out of her personal darkness just as World War I was getting underway. She would return to France and as usual prove heroic, in the service of life even amidst the maddest death-dealing the world had seen up to that time.
In the early days of the war, field hospitals had no X-ray machinery; surgeons rooted blindly in torn flesh for bullets and shell fragments, and had to lop off limbs that might have been saved in more civilized surroundings. Madame Curie helped bring civilization to the battlefield: A million X-rays had been taken overall during the war. It gave Marie Curie nothing. In the American journalist Marie Meloney drew Curie into a plan to raise money for the purchase of more radium for her Radium Institute in Paris; American scientists and entrepreneurs had a virtual lock on the market, and Madame Curie had been priced out of it.
A barnstorming tour of the United States raised more than a hundred thousand dollars, a small fortune at the time, and enough to buy a gram of radium.
Honors as well as money for research came her way. Several American colleges granted Madame Curie honorary degrees — though Harvard, which was moving in that direction, ultimately bowed to objections from the antediluvian physics department — and, most astonishing of all, in the French Academy of Medicine made her its first woman member in its year history.
After all, is there much difference between acclaiming Dempsey and acclaiming me? Earlier in her career, perhaps, being known by her colleagues as the first this and the first that was important to her; now only getting her work done in the time she had left mattered.