Marie Curie

Essay by nix_11A-, May 2006

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The ashes of Marie Curie and her husband Pierre have now been laid to rest under the famous dome of the Panthéon, in Paris. Through her discovery of radium, Marie Curie paved the way for nuclear physics and cancer therapy. Born of polish parents, she was a woman of science and courage, compassionate yet stubbornly determined. Her research work was to cost her her life.

Marie Curie, or rather Marya Sklodowska, was born in Warsaw on November 7th, 1867. Born into a family of teachers and brought up in an environment marked by a sense of duty and a lack of money she led the most basic of lives. As a brilliant and mature student with a rare gift of concentration, Marya harboured the dream of a scientific career, a concept inconceivable for a woman at that time - but the lack of funds meant that she was forced to become a private tutor.

In 1891, the shy Marya arrived in Paris. Ambitious and self taught she had only one obsession: to learn. She passed a physics degree with flying colours, and went to sit a mathematics degree. It was then that a polish friend introduced her to Pierre Curie, a young man, shy and introvert. In 1895 this freethinker, acknowledged for his work on crystallography and magnetism, became her husband.

In her pioneering way, Marie Curie decided, in 1897, to take a physics doctorate. She deduced that there were other substances besides uranium that were very "radioactive" (a term she herself had make up), such as polonium and radium, which she discovered in 1898.

In their experiments, Pierre observed the properties of the radiation while Marie purified the radioactive elements. Their laboratory was nothing more than a miserable hangar, where in the winter the temperature dropped to...