An Interview with Manuel F. Varela and Ann F. Varela: Marie Salomea Skłodowska Curie— A Female Scientist with Many Firsts?

Nov 3, 2021 by

I had to spend a whole day mixing a boiling mass with a heavy iron rod nearly as large as myself. I would be broken with fatigue at the day’s end.”

—Marie Salomea Skłodowska Curie

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1) The name Marie Skłodowska Curie is almost synonymous with female success.  

She is:

a) The first person to receive TWO Nobel Prizes.

b) The only woman to receive TWO Nobel Prizes.

c) The First Woman Scientist laureate.

d) The first female professor, lecturer, and Head of a Laboratory at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France.

e) The only woman (as far as I know) to be buried in the Pantheon in Paris, France, for her various accomplishments.

When and where was this female scientist, Marie Curie, born?

Dr. Marie Skłodowska Curie is a genuine scientist extraordinaire. She is perhaps most famous for her revolutionizing studies on radioactivity.

Marie Salomea Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1867 on November 7 during a Russian occupation. She was the fifth child born to Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Skłodowska. She received her general education in the local schools and some of her scientific training from her father, a physics and mathematics teacher. When Skłodowska was ten, her mother died of tuberculosis, so her father sent her to a boarding school and then a gymnasium for girls. Skłodowska was awarded the gold medal upon graduation for her exemplary academic achievements.

Skłodowska suffered a collapse, believed to be caused by depression after graduation. She spent the following year with relatives in the countryside, where she began tutoring. Due to her gender, Skłodowska was unable to register for courses in a traditional institution of higher education, so she and her sister became involved with the underground Flying University, a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning for female students. To supplement her income and continue to pay for tuition, Skłodowska worked as a governess and borrowed money from her father. He had lost much of his savings due to poor investments but fortunately earned some of it back by taking on teaching opportunities.

Skłodowska’s experience during her governess period was apparently saddened by a love affair gone sour. By 1890, she secured work in a chemical laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture at Krakowskie Przedmieście, and her heartache was on the mend.

Her parents were secondary school educators and wanted their daughter to continue her higher educational studies in Paris, France. In Paris, Skłodowska studied physics and mathematics at the Sorbonne in 1891. In 1894, she met her future husband, Pierre Curie, a physics professor, at the Sorbonne, and the two wed in 1895.

2) Her early education and experiences in science—what do we know?

Curie and her husband performed experiments together exploring radioactivity, building on the scientific research efforts of Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen, the German physicistand the French physicist Henri Becquerel. The laboratory of the Curie’s was not anything like a modern laboratory of the twenty-first century. First, Curie had other obligations besides working in the lab and teaching; she had a baby daughter, Irène, to care for, as was customary for women to tend to the household chores and the raising of children, and would run home to nurse her baby throughout the day.

Second, Curie had a difficult time with all of these responsibilities, which took a toll on her mental and physical health. In time, she hired a wet nurse to supplement her daughter’s nutritional requirements, which eased her stress level. She no longer experienced panic attacks.

Third, after Pierre’s mother died of breast cancer, his father, Eugene, came to live with the Curie’s in a new home not too far from Paris. Pierre’s father provided the Curie household with some much-needed peace of mind.

Curie was at long last ready to begin her doctoral research. She was fascinated with Röntgen’s X-rays. All she needed now was a suitable laboratory space to start her research. Luckily, Pierre was able to secure a small, glass-enclosed space on the ground floor for her to occupy. He also provided her with some equipment, such as an electrometer and piezoelectric quartz.

In July 1898, the Curies proclaimed discovering a new chemical element, polonium, named after her homeland, Poland. At the end of the year, they revealed the discovery of another element, radium. The Curies, together with Becquerel, were bestowed the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. One year later, her second daughter, Eve, was born. Tragically, Pierre was run over by a carriage and died instantly on the Rue Dauphine only three years later.

Curie’s research was critical in the development of X-rays in surgery. During World War One, Curie helped furnish ambulances with X-ray equipment intended for the front lines. She then transported that equipment herself. The International Red Cross made her head of its radiological service. In addition, she held training courses for medical orderlies and doctors in the new techniques.

3) Radiation—how does this fit into her life?

Curie is widely considered a pioneer in the early studies dealing with radioactivity. Curie’s dealings with this area involve her discovery of the radiation phenomenon during graduate school and her later discoveries of radium and polonium’s radioactive elements. Furthermore, it is widely thought of amongst the chemists, physicists, and many other scientists that Curie coined “radioactivity.”

Dr. Curie had invoked the term to describe the nature of the energy emitted from certain substances—these emissions actively “radiated” from these sorts of materials—hence, the elements were said to be radioactive. She would be famous worldwide, and she would regularly interact with many of the most famous physicists of the day.

As mentioned above, Curie’s experimental work on radiation changed the world in profound ways. Investigators found new ways to use detectable radioactive rays to label relevant molecules and follow their journeys into and around cells or tissues of living organisms. For instance, one could use radioactively labeled molecules to trace their metabolic degradation pathways during the digestion of foods. Further, investigators began to learn how, for example, metabolic building blocks were absorbed from the gut into the tissues or the blood. Others traced radioactively labeled nutrients and biochemically relevant small molecules as they entered or exited living cells.

On a clinical level, high doses of radiation could be used therapeutically to kill specific cancers in hospitalized patients. Such forms of radiation therapy have been a mainstay in clinical medicine, even in modern times. Curie’s newfound radioactive elements were used to develop diagnostic kits to determine patients’ cause or type of disease.

In time, Curie’s discoveries would be used on a large scale to discover the physical nature of the atom. Atomic physicists would find newer sub-atomic particles that helped explain the universe’s nature with that new knowledge. Atomic scientists would also discover ways to break atoms apart to release unprecedented amounts of atomic energy, using the information to design and build bombs of potentially unlimited explosive power. These atomic, hydrogen and nuclear arsenals would accumulate, lasting decades into modern times with far-reaching political and societal ramifications.

4) She worked with her husband, Pierre—but many publications were based on her work and published under her name. 

The famous wife and husband research team Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded half of the Nobel Prize in 1903 in physics for their studies of the spontaneous radiative emissions described by Henri Becquerel. The Curies shared the other half the prize with Becquerel.

Marie Curie was an independent investigator in her own right, and she would eventually become one of (if not the) the world’s most famous investigators in scientific history. Marie Curie has written many scientific articles and books. Further, her life and science have been widely covered in an extensive popular literature collection. Curie’s life and scientific story have also been portrayed in films on the widescreen. Importantly, we understand that Marie Curie received full credit for her scientific contributions. One of the prominent reasons for this universal recognition of Curie can be traced by scholars of science history to the original publication policy of the Curies, Marie and Pierre. Overall, there appear to be several stages to Marie Curie’s publication record during her lifetime.

In stage one, Curie’s early career, we can see that her first scientific papers were penned under her name as the prime or sole author. Indeed, Marie Skłodowska Curie was known to have worked independently on the physics topic of magnetism before she began collaborating with Pierre on radiation. Marie’s first scientific article, published in 1897, dealt with the magnetic analysis of so-called quenched steel samples using chemistry-based techniques.

The second stage appears to be the start of the process in which Marie Curie would be widely credited for her scientific studies on radiation. Inherent in this particular stage, Marie Curie was a graduate student in the doctoral program, and she started work on Becquerel’s radiative energy, known to Curie as Becquerel’s rays. Her independent work was presented to the French Academy of Sciences conference in April of 1898. In the proceedings, she reported her data dealing with the rays emitted from chemical compounds that contained thorium and uranium. Curie had analyzed many samples, such as various metals, minerals, oxides, and salts, to determine whether any of them had radioactive properties, measuring Becquerel’s rays using an electrometer device that Pierre and his brother Jacques had developed. Curie’s experimental results were remarkable because she discovered that all materials tested with uranium showed good radioactive levels. The amounts of radiation seemed to correspond to the levels of uranium in the samples. Marie had hypothesized that the uranium rays were the result of an atomic property of the element itself. Marie’s scientific proposal had revolutionized atomic physics! She had discovered that an atom was essentially divisible. Before, it had been thought that the atom was indivisible.

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Figure 1. Thorium.

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Marie Curie also observed that within specific uranium ore minerals called chalcolite, a mixture of copper phosphate and uranium, and the pitchblende material, also known as uranium oxide, the levels of radioactivity were surprisingly greater than those of pure uranium! The radiation data from these uranium minerals hinted, if not outright predicted, that the compounds harbored another radioactive element besides the uranium. If true, it would mean that Marie had discovered a new element! Indeed, Curie had discovered what would become widely known as thorium. See Figure 1.

Interestingly, G. C. Schmidt had detected thorium’s radiation at about the same time as Curie. Nevertheless, Curie was certainly a co-discoverer of the new thorium substance for inclusion into the periodic chart of the elements. What is more, Curie published the new findings under “Madame Skłodowska Curie” and was the sole author of the scientific article in 1898. These early studies established Curie as a bona fide independent scientist at 31 years old.

Afterward, Pierre would join Marie, and the Curies would work together. Their collaborative efforts resulted in their co-discovery of radium and polonium. During this profoundly productive scientific period, the Curies were sure to give proper individual and dual credit for their respective contributions. Their publication policy ensured that each investigator took credit for their original work, and if together the Curies made a joint discovery, the dual nature of the scientific contribution was accurately recorded as such, as evidenced by authorship. This publication strategy would establish Marie Curie as a genuine scientific investigator, astutely involved in the discoveries, enhancing her prominence in scientific history.

The married collaborators Marie and Pierre Curie first studied pitchblende by performing a series of chemical-based separations using bismuth to isolate and purify the radiative substance that Marie Curie had hinted about in her previous solo paper. The Curie team first found a bismuth-containing compound from the pitchblende that was reported to harbor radiative activity, which was about four hundred times more active than pure uranium. As mentioned above, feeling confident that their compound was novel, they named the new element polonium after their homeland of Poland. They published their first paper together in July of 1898, and in their report, they used the term “radioactive.” It was the first time in scientific history that the word radioactive appeared in print. The first collaboration between Marie and Pierre Curie led to the incorporation of polonium into the periodic chart of elements.

Next, the two Curies, who worked with Gustave Bémont, conducted a second scientific project. This latter research topic consisted of understanding a “hotter” radioactive emission from their pitchblende. The trio had isolated a compound consisting of a barium precipitate mixed with a new atomic element called radium. They had detected extremely high levels of radioactive emissions from their compound. In this study, the investigators measured the spectral lines that definitively indicated a new element, radium. The element had not been seen before, and they published a second article on the day after Christmas in 1898. The Curies had discovered radium.

Interestingly, the Curies made sure to cite their earlier works, giving insight into the origins of the logic for their newer research. During these citations of their earlier works, it was clear who was credited for specific discoveries, whether Marie, Pierre, or both. Their reports used the terms “one of us” and “we” when detailing the previous works. The Curies were precisely describing their various scientific contributions, giving proper scientific credit.

After their joint discoveries of polonium and radium, the Curies were just getting started. They worked with André Debierne and discovered actinium, another new element! See Figure 2. The Curies also involved themselves with more detailed analyses regarding the chemical characteristics of their new elements. For example, they measured the atomic weight of radium and characterized the rays that were emitted from radioactive materials. The Curies also tried to isolate their new elements in pure form. During this period, a well-known story emerged about the harsh conditions of their laboratory and the immense struggles they encountered as they progressed with labor-intensive element isolation work. Marie would later relate the effort, referring to boiling masses and being broken with fatigue at the of the day. When the project was completed, however, their labors would be rewarded as they were the first to calculate the precise atomic weight of radium, which they reported as 225.9, later shown to be 226.0254 by modern methods.

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Figure 2. Actinium.

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Marie and Pierre Curie also investigated the effects of energy rays emitted from radioactive materials, publishing the data in 1899. A new project dealt with the so-called beta rays, a form of radiation, in which the Curies measured the amount of charge carried by these radioactive rays. They worked out the charge character of the so-called beta rays, calculating a negative charge for them. These latter data were published together with Marie and Pierre as co-authors in 1900. During this period, the Curies also published separately, with each scientist conducting individual research projects. For example, Pierre had speculated on radioactive rays being reflective and non-reflective.

Meanwhile, Marie Curie had characterized the alpha rays emitted from radioactive substances and described their nature as energetic particles that were non-reflective.

Notably, Marie Curiue focused much of her efforts on isolating the radium element in a pure form during this period. The work was arduous and time-consuming, and the laboratory conditions were appalling. Nevertheless, when Marie later completed the project, it was a genuine testament to her perseverance, and as a true genius, she will forever be known for having purified radium as one of the world’s most significant scientific accomplishments.

In 1903, it was announced that Marie and Pierre would share the Nobel accolade in chemistry with Becquerel. The Nobel commission would recognize Marie and Pierre for their work with Becquerel rays. According to scientific lore, initially, the Nobel would go to only Pierre and Becquerel, leaving Marie out altogether, as she had not even been nominated. When Pierre was alerted about this omission, he was reported to have vigorously lobbied the Academy to include Marie and satisfactorily correct the blunder.

The fourth publication period encompasses the ramifications that occurred after the unfortunate death of Pierre from a tragic accident. On the 19th of April, in 1906, Pierre was instantly killed in Paris by a horse-drawn cart while crossing a street. Remarkably, Marie Curie took solace and strength amid adversity by continuing with the research. During this period, Curie completed the isolation of radium and wrote a physics textbook titled “A Treatise on Radioactivity.” This last stage of publication history involves Curie’s work and collaboration with younger scientists. Curie had risen to the pinnacle of her career, highly esteemed by peers and non-specialists alike throughout the world.

5) The “Curie Point,” what is it, what does it mean, and why is it important? 

The Curie point was named after Pierre, who had developed the concept, also called the Curie temperature. The Curie point marks the temperature at which a metal-based substance alters its magnetic properties. In cases of specific minerals and stones, a degree of so-called remanent magnetism, a permanent condition, is present in such substances if the specific Curie temperature for them has not been reached. A temperature that is lower than the substance’s Curie point aligns with its inherent magnetism character. Below the Curie temperature, the atomic arrangements of these magnetic minerals and rocks are aligned to maintain their magnetic fields.

However, above the innate Curie point, such magnetic properties weaken, a condition known as paramagnetism. The temperatures that are higher than the Curie point can result in a disruption of the atomic arrangements.

Interestingly, when such heated magnetic substances are cooled back down to temperatures that are once again below their characteristic Curie point, the original magnetic properties are restored because the atomic arrangements return to their previous states.

The Curie point notion developed by Pierre Curie arose out of his interest in the transitions between different types of magnetism. He had built a so-called torsional balance device. The instrument was used to measure the so-called magnetic coefficients of various magnetic substances. Pierre was skilled in distinguishing between the physical and magnetic properties of the various types of magnetism and their transitions. Pierre Curie had conducted the work to satisfy the requirements for his doctorate in 1895. Just before his thesis defense, in the spring of 1994, he and Marie Skłodowska met, and they married on the 25th day of July in 1895. Thanks to Marie, Pierre became interested in the rays of Becquerel, too.

6) Radioactivity—is this a word developed by Marie Curie—and why is this important?

According to Marie Curie, the essence of radioactivity was an inherent property of the atom itself. She was the first scientist to assert this hypothesis, and it changed the face of atomic and chemical science. Radioactive materials emit energetic particles from the nuclei of atoms. Radioactivity is the discharge or escape of these sub-atomic ionizing particles in which the atomic nucleus disintegrates. These energetic disintegrations can be counted and the levels measured.

Eventually, the radiation levels would be measured in “Curie” and “Becquerel” units, named after Marie and Henri, respectively. One Curie unit of radioactivity is equal to the decay rate of 3.7 x 1010 radioactive disintegrations per second. Interestingly, one Becquerel unit equals one disintegration of radioactivity per second and 2.7 x 10-5 micro-Curie (μCi) units.

The relatively high energy of the radioactive particles emitting from the atomic nuclei meant that scientific instruments in a laboratory could readily detect them and measure their amounts. Detecting specific radioactive atoms meant that investigators could track them and trace their pathways along a biological, physiological, biochemical, and physical process.

However, the chemical and physical nature of the radioactive decay was realized as significant, especially when one considered nuclear fission. It was discovered that if a loose neutron emitted from nuclear fission or fusion reaction collided with an atom of uranium-235, it would create a fission product plus additional neutrons, which in turn, could continue the atomic bombardment process, eventually creating a monumental release of energy and potentially producing an atomic bomb explosion of an enormous magnitude. See Figure 3.

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Figure 3. Nuclear fission of uranium-235.

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During the nuclear fission process, the bombardment of uranium-235 produces a highly unstable uranium-236 atom. The new atom then spontaneously emits fission fragments barium-144 and krypton-89 plus a large amount of energy and additional neutrons. These neutrons can start the process repeatedly, producing a chain reaction and, thus, an atomic explosion. This nuclear chain reaction is the basis of the world’s first atomic bombs, which were used during World War II when they were dropped on the skies of the Japanese cities Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

Radiation would also be used for non-military purposes. One prime example was that radioactive material could be exploited to follow the course of specific carbon atoms as they were carried from one biomolecule to another during metabolism. In this way, the metabolic pathways of glycolysis and the citric acid cycle, known as the Krebs cycle, were confirmed experimentally. Furthermore, radioactive tracers were used to follow specific nutrients like sugars and amino acids as they were absorbed into the epithelial cells lining the gut and blood. The rates of molecule transport across the biological membranes could be elucidated with radioactive tags, thus permitting investigators to develop new medicines that regulated specific solutes of medical importance, like insulin, neurotransmitters, or hormones.

Radioactively labeled molecules could be used in immunology to determine the levels of specific antigens and detect functional antibody molecules. These sorts of antigen-antibody interactions could be measured with radiation to diagnose various infectious and genetic diseases.

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Figure 4. Nobel Laureate in physiology or medicine, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow, was inspired by Dr. Marie Curie.

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Along these lines, Dr. Rosalyn Yalow would earn a Nobel Prize in 1977 for developing the radioimmunoassay technique to precisely measure peptide hormones. See Figure 4.

The life and scientific work of Marie Curie had been an inspiration to Yalow. The work of Yalow would revolutionize the way we think of insulin, antibodies, hormones, and medical diagnostics, plus the pharmacokinetic behaviors of medicines for treating medical diseases.

Regarding molecular biology, radioactive materials would be astutely exploited to discern whether protein or nucleic acid was the basis of the genetic material. Martha Chase and Alfred Hershey would use carbon-14 and sulfur-35 to radioactively label bacteriophage viruses and trace whether DNA or protein made their way into the bacterial host cell during infection, pointing to DNA as the hereditary material. See Figure 5. Thanks to Curie’s pioneering work with radioactive isotopes, Chase and Hershey would pave the way for exploring the nature of the DNA structure in the early 1950s.

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Figure 5. Martha Chase of the famous Chase-Hershey experiment.

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Likewise, in what is considered the most elegant scientific experiment of the 20th century, the replicative mode of DNA synthesis called semi-conservative replication was determined by Franklin Stahl and Matthew Meselson using radioactive nitrogen molecules in nucleotides that were incorporated into growing DNA chains. In summary, it was Dr. Marie Skłodowska Curie who helped to start these further advances in science. Indeed, Curie would revolutionize science on many fronts.

7) What was the reaction of the scientific community to her work?

Before the first Nobel, male peers were slow to recognize Marie Curie’s contributions. During the birth of her scientific career, Curie was viewed as a lowly graduate student—a female student. Additionally, she was considered merely an assistant to Pierre and his wife rather than a legitimate scientific partner and collaborator. Although Pierre and Marie painstakingly attributed their respective contributions with a proper authorship policy in their published articles, many of their fellow scientists were nevertheless unhurried to appreciate her scientific contributions. Even the great Ernest Rutherford himself, who cited the early works of the Curies, was for years reluctant to acknowledge even Marie’s existence in his articles.

As considered above, the scientific writings resulting from the investigations were carefully worded to attribute credit wherever it was due. Proper acknowledgment of Marie’s role as a scientific genius with novel ideas about the nature of radioactivity would eventually come to fruition. The threshold for the proper acceptance of Marie Curie’s discoveries would be found when the first Nobel Prize was announced. After the first Nobel accolade was bestowed to the Curies, they would be forever famous. They were both scientific and popular celebrities in the day. They were also targets for news reporters.

Astonishingly, in 1911 Curie would garner another Nobel in chemistry for having discovered the elements radium and polonium. Curie now had two Nobel Prizes, each in a different category. Before, Curie had been quite famous primarily because of the first Nobel. Now she established an institute in her name in Paris, France, in 1920 and the Curie Institute in Warsaw, Poland, in 1932. Suffering from radiation poisoning during the bulk of her scientific career, Cuire would pass away at the age of 66 from a type of cancer that most likely was brought about from exposure to the very radiation that made her famous.

8) Her laboratory—what is its current status?

The Curie laboratory undertook several transformations. It had initially been an unheated, un-air conditioned, and poorly ventilated shack. She had toiled under austere laboratory conditions during the isolation of a pure form of radium. Eventually, Curie overcame the hardship and succeeded in her quest to purify the new element radium. Back then, not much was understood about the toxic biological effects of radiation, and both Curies would suffer from radiation poisoning for years.

After the tragic death of Pierre, her husband, and collaborator, Marie moved to a newly created state-of-the-art laboratory at the University of Paris. Later, Curie participated in establishing the so-called Radium Institute, of which she headed as its director. At some point, the institute took on a Curie Pavilion status, a standing of prestige. The research-intensive organization is now called Curie Institute. Another branch of the Curie Institution was established at the Pasteur Institute. In present times, Curie’s preserved laboratory facility is a well-visited museum. It had been established first in 1934 on the first floor of the Pavillion. The Curie Museum was refurbished in 2012 after a generous donation by Marie’s youngest daughter Eve, who had passed away at the age of 102 in 2007.

9) Marie Curie’s daughter Irène received a Nobel Prize—what was that prize for, and did Marie Curie live to see it?

Curie’s eldest daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, and son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, would, in 1934, provide the world’s first experimental evidence for the so-called induced radioactivity hypothesis and earn a chemistry Nobel Prize for it in 1935. Irène was born on the 12th of September in 1897. Marie’s second child, Eve Curie, born on December 6, 1904, would later write a best-selling biographical classic Madame Curie about her mother. See Figure 6.

The path to the Nobel for Marie’s daughter Irène would start with the early work of her parents, the Curies, Marie and Pierre. They would start what could be described as a precursor to Irène’s future Nobel work after her parents’ successful high-yield purification of radium. Her parents continued to investigate radiation’s chemical and physical behavior after their high-yield purification of the new element. Marie and Pierre had first studied induced radioactivity in which stable non-radioactive substances were converted into radioactive materials. The idea arose when the Curies considered the relationship between polonium and non-radioactive bismuth, speculating whether one element activated the radioactive character of the other element.

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Figure 6. Irène, Marie, and Eve Curie, in 1921.

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Interestingly, for centuries, starting with alchemists, and up to the time that Irène and Frédéric began their investigations, many had sought to convert one element into another, like perhaps transmuting lead into gold. Though such aspirations were never quite realized, Irène and Frédéric Curie had come as close as any scientists could at the time, and their attempts to transmute elements would result in the Nobel for them. See Figure 7.

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Figure 7. Nobel Laureates Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie in 1935.

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Irène and Frédéric had married on October 9th of 1926 and had begun their collaborative scientific work in 1928. Using purified elements aluminum, magnesium, and boron as targets, Irène and Frédéric bombarded these substances with alpha radiation in the form of particles or rays. The central nuclei of radioactive alpha particles consist of two neutrons and two protons and are considered virtually identical to helium-4. See Figure 8. These types of alpha particles can be produced by a radioactive disintegration process called alpha decay.

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Figure 8. Alpha particle.

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Shockingly, Irène and Frédéric discovered that the alpha ray bombardment of the non-radioactive elements mentioned above (i.e., aluminum, magnesium, and boron) produced radioactive forms of different elements, like nitrogen and phosphorous! The discovery by the new generation of Curies was immensely significant because it meant new radioisotopes could be made artificially in the laboratory. The new process saved time and effort, and it circumvented chemical exposures from having to purify minute quantities of the radioactive elements from tons of pitchblende and other materials. The elemental transmutations conducted by Irène and Frédéric were undoubtedly worthy of the Nobel Prize, which they took in the category of chemistry. On the evening of December 12 that year, in 1935, Irène delivered her keynote Nobel address to the Swedish assembly at the Academy. Sadly, Professor Marie Skłodowska Curie would not live to see her daughter’s Nobel address, as Marie passed away from cancer on the fourth of July, in 1934, at the age of 66.

10) In a sense, after she died, what legacy did Mdme. Skłodowska Curie leave behind?

We think that one prime example which Nobel Laureate Dr. Marie Skłodowska Curie leaves behind is a fitting testament to the level of the scientific heights that a woman scientist can attain in a world littered with men on every other level. In one sense, as we briefly mentioned above, Curie has been a positive inspiration for women scientists. Many prominent female scientists have specifically attributed their successes to the example put forth by Curie. Evident in this scenario is the biography published by her daughter Eve Curie shortly after her mother’s death. Eve’s book about her genius mother has had a significant influence in directing the careers of many young girls and women scientists. Some of her accomplishments have been memorialized in Warsaw, Poland. See Figure 9.

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Figure 9. Marie Skłodowska-Curie memorial in Warsaw.

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In another sense, Curie represents a shining example of the advantage of perseverance. Successful individuals like Curie often will readily tout how the only block to success is prematurely quitting.

The legendary story of Curie toiling under dreadful laboratory conditions mixing toxic chemicals, and boiling cauldrons of acidic pitchblende for 16-hour shifts to successfully isolate radium while never giving up, is a true testimony to her determination. Curie possessed a dogged persistence, a trait often required for research in graduate school or academia. What is more, such diligence that Curie demonstrated, not only with her radium, thorium, and polonium work but also with her entire life’s scientific work, can serve as a shining example of endurance for us all.

Moreover, it is our firm belief that Curie leaves behind a legacy on how the application of genius can benefit not only the scientist, as in Marie’s case, but also the world and the many inhabitants occupying it. Teachers are often convinced that each student has a genuine intellectual gift or talent for something in educational circles, whether in mathematics, art, history, science, literature, economics, and others.

Further, the individual’s intellectual gift or talent need not necessarily be in the academic arenas. That is to say, a gift or talent can manifest itself in, for example, persuasion, communication, influence, and affect the lives of many. Our point is that the gifted and talented Curie used her intellectual powers to reach unprecedented heights. As such, Professor Marie Skłodowska Curie has provided an inspirational example of genius for everyone.V

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