November 7th marks what would’ve been Marie Curie’s 155th birthday. While the science community deems her one of the most famous figures in the realm of chemistry and physics, many don’t know just how influential her achievements were. Marie Curie was devoted to her work until the day she died. Alongside her husband, Pierre Curie, the two made shocking discoveries that would change the way our world works, for the better.
The Life of Marie Curie
Born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867, Maria Sklodowska was gifted from the start. Her father was a teacher of both mathematics and physics, so her interest in the subjects started from a young age. With a remarkable memory and a fascination for things that hadn’t been discovered, Maria dreamed of furthering her knowledge by attending university. Headstrong, confident, and determined to make her family proud, she moved to Paris in 1891 to pursue her dreams.
Now using the French name, Marie, she was as focused as ever. Attending lectures whenever she could, she garnished a reputation for her intelligence, winning small awards for her research at university. Working in laboratories day and night, she soon met Pierre Curie in the Spring of 1894. The two hit it off right away, and by July 1895, they were married. Now known as Marie Sklodowska-Curie, the couple would quickly enlighten the world about elements we didn’t know existed.
Marie and her husband would go on to determine the existence of the elements polonium and radium. But Marie wanted to see if these elements, particularly radium, could help alleviate pain from sick soldiers during World War One. She didn’t know it then, but this work would become a pivotal pillar in how we treat cancer patients today. Marie didn’t let up on her work until the day she died. In a somewhat ironic way, it was the elements that she spent her life researching that would lead to her death in 1934.
Curie’s Crowning Achievements
In the midst of Marie Curie’s accomplishments, this intellectual wonder was also a mother. After her death, her children, Eve and Irene, carried on her legacy. Irene constantly assisted her mother with her experiments during WW1. In the stunning biography, Madame Curie: A Biography, Eve Curie documents all of her mother’s struggles and achievements as one of the most famous women in science.
As told by her daughter, Marie Curie deserved all the praise she received for her discoveries. Working in a field flooded by men wasn’t easy, but she soon surpassed her colleagues with grace. Her mother was one of a kind, proving her intelligence to those around her. And soon enough, people began to take notice. Marie Curie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903. She shared this award with her husband and Henri Becquerel.
After the sudden death of her husband in 1906, Curie only worked twice as hard to make her mark on the public. Her studies of the isolation of radium and its medicinal properties lead her to win a second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time, all on her own. While the Nobel Prizes are some of her more stunning accolades, the crowning achievement has been her service to the public. Even though she didn’t know it, Madame Curie has made certain aspects of our daily lives possible. Without Marie Sklodowska-Curie, we wouldn’t have discovered the helpful powers that radium and polonium bring.
Curie Wasn’t The Only One
In the world of science, Curie wasn’t the only one who made headlines. There are so many other notable figures who paved their own path, that it’s a struggle to only highlight a select few. But due to their remarkable research, here are 4 other scientists who impacted society in ways they couldn’t even imagine.
In the riveting book Stephen Hawking: A Biography, author, Kristine Larsen details the harrowing ups and downs Stephen faced during his career as a physicist. Written without technological jargon, readers are invited to understand the complex questions that Hawking was intent on answering. Some of his most well-known contributions to society were his daring theories on black holes, cosmology, and the anthropic principle. Diagnosed with ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) at only 21, Hawking made it his life’s mission to answer the unsolved questions of the universe. Thanks to his notable research, his name lives in infamy, not just in the science community, but for the rest of the world.
Shirley Ann Jackson
If you’re interested in learning more about influential women within the science community, Strong Force: The Story of Physicist Shirley Ann Jackson by Diane O’Connell is a great place to start. The biography details the astounding story of how Shirley Ann Jackson made a name for herself in an institution that wasn’t so accepting of Black women. But that didn’t stop Shirley in the slightest. Dr. Jackson would go on to become the first African-American woman to receive a Ph.D. at MIT, use her theories to help develop telecommunications technology, and was awarded the National Medal of Science by President Barack Obama in 2016. If you didn’t know this fantastic physicist before, you certainly do now.
Alan Turing has become more of a household name thanks to the popular movie, The Imitation Game. But before the movie debuted, many people didn’t know how much of our lives are based on the work that Alan Turing pursued in the 1930s and 940s. But in the biography, Alan Turing: Enigma by Anna Revell, she reveals all of the details that missed the cut for the film. Known as the Father of Modern Computers, Alan Turing also faced hardships in his line of work. Battling bigotry and discrimination for his sexuality, Turing put his focus on helping his country during WW2. With his contributions, he singlehandedly saved the Allied Powers and the world with his code-breaking skills.
Undoubtedly, the most famous scientist of our age has to go to Albert Einstein himself. In the biography, Einstein: His Life and Universe, author Walter Isaacson dives deep into the infamous physicist’s life. All of us know his most notable equation, E=mc2, but many wonder what exactly made him a genius. All of that is explored in Isaacson’s biography of the scientist. As a freethinker, Einstein was determined to uncover everything he could about our universe.
This led him to his theory of relativity and other groundbreaking discoveries. But his life still seems a mystery. Luckily, Isaacson has done all the digging. If you’re interested in finding out the hidden secrets of the most well-known physicist to ever live, I implore you to read this book.
Even though Marie Curie succumbed to her work, her achievements still live on today. Thanks to her and so many other innovative scientists, we have the opportunities to expand on their research, and truly reach for the stars in our search for the bigger questions of our universe. So, Happy Birthday, Marie Curie; we wouldn’t be here without you.
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