On the occasion of the 80th anniversary of the death of Marie Curie (née Sklodowska) on 4 July, the DAtF would like to commemorate one of the most outstanding personalities in science.
Marie Curie was not only a great scientist but also a symbol for the emancipation of women and social progress. Coming from a family of teachers in the area of Poland that was then part of Russia, she managed through a combination of tenacity and hard work to realize the long-cherished desire to study natural sciences in Paris something which at that time was forbidden to women in Russia.
As one of the few women at the university she was quickly able through talent and commitment to gain top marks and to enter experimental research in chemistry and physics. Here she soon achieved success and decided to do her doctorate with Henri Becquerel via the radiation of uranium which he had discovered. With her husband, Pierre Curie, she discovered the elements polonium and radium which ever since, like other elements and isotopes, have been termed “radioactive” due to their special properties. In 1903 Marie Curie was the first woman, jointly with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, to win the Nobel Prize for Physics for their discoveries. After the sudden death of her husband in 1906, she took over his teaching job as the first woman ever to give lectures at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1908 she became Professor of Physics and in 1911 was presented with the Nobel Prize for Chemistry. As a result, to this day she is the only woman to win two Nobel prizes and the only person to be distinguished in two scientific disciplines.
During the First World War, Marie Curie become very involved in the treatment of the wounded close to the front with her development of mobile X-ray vehicles and the organization of a medical training program. In 1920 she set up the Curie Foundation focusing on the medical use of radioactivity. With the foundation and at the Radium Institute which she also built up, Marie Curie nurtured and supported women and foreign students in particular. From 1922 to her death in 1934, she championed international scientific cooperation as part of the League of Nations.
Marie Curie’s life, with its combination of basic research, practical application, social and international commitment, is remarkable and it provides inspiration and incentive to achieve knowledge and progress in both science and society.