“Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained.” -Marie Curie
Born Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields (physics and chemistry). Curie’s efforts, with her husband, Pierre Curie, led to the discovery of polonium and radium and, after Pierre’s death, the development of X-rays. She died on July 4, 1934 from aplastic anemia, believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation.
A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie worked out a deal with her sister. She would work to support Bronya while she was in school and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.
Conducting her own experiments on uranium rays, she discovered that the rays remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium. Marie theorized that the rays came from the element’s atomic structure. That theory created the field we now call atomic physics and it began with what she termed radioactivity.
Her career contributions to science are innumerable and she is often described as the most important female scientist in history. She shared her love of science with her children, as her father had shared with her. One daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie also went on to win a Nobel Prize for her and her husbands continued studies of uranium.
She was a woman. She was a daughter. She became a mother. Marie was a sister, a friend, a wife , a teacher AND a scientist. She propelled research forward by her strength of mind, strong will AND her compassion. We follow in her footsteps, balancing our own aspirations with our lives and leading our children until they are able to outrun us. Marie was an example of all a woman can be and all that women can accomplish when set upon the path less traveled. May we walk in her footsteps in our own ways and continue to create the paths she began.