Marie Skłodowska-Curie, also known as Madam Curie, was a French of Polish descent physicist and chemist, famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity.
Recently, the Save A Heart Foundation, Chairman and the Cedar-Sinai Alumni association-CSAA cultural director Dr. Yzhar Charuzi, arranged an evening to commemorate the life of this extraordinary woman. Dr. Aron Bick, Cedar-Sinai oncologist/hematologist told the audience about the life of Madam Curie and the impact of her discoveries on the world of medicine and science. Following the presentation, the guests watched the 1943 Oscar nominated movie Madame Curie on the life of the Curie couple, with Greer Garson as Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Walter Pidgeon as Pierre Curie. Despite him being an accomplished physicist and avowed bachelor Pierre Curie fell for the brilliant student Marie, and together they embarked on the discovery of the radium.
Born in Poland as Marie Skłodowska, after her marriage to Frenchman Dr. Pierre Curie she took on the hyphened last name Curie.
Maria Salomea Skłodowska began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in the university of the Sorbonne, Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and where she conducted her subsequent scientific work with her husband, Pierre Curie. She shared her 1903 Nobel Prize physics with her husband Pierre and with the physicist Henri Becquerel. Later on, similarly, her daughter Irene Curie- Joliot and son-in-law Frederic Joliot shared a Nobel Prize. Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to date to win it in two fields – physics and chemistry – and the only person to win in multiple sciences.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was the first female professor at the Sorbonne, also known as the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Pantheon in Paris.
Her achievements included a theory of radioactivity, a term that she coined, the techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, first Polonium and later Radium. Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institute in Paris, France and in Warsaw, Poland, which remain major centres of medical research today.
Marie and Pierre’s partnership in life and work was extraordinary but was cut short.
On 19 April 1906, while walking across the Rue Dauphine, in heavy rain, Pierre was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels and lost his life.
Marie was devastated by the death of her husband. On 13 May 1906, the Sorbonne physics department decided to retain the chair that had been created for Pierre and they entrusted it to Marie. This allowed her to emerge from Pierre’s shadow to became the first woman professor at the Sorbonne.
While she was an actively loyal French citizen, Marie Skłodowska-Curie never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her two daughters – Irene and Eve – the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element she discovered and which she first isolated in 1898 – polonium – after her native country, Poland
Marie Skłodowska-Curie died in 1934 of aplastic anemia, brought on by her years of exposure to radiation.
There is much to tell about Madam Curie’s achievements in science, but the most distinguished ones were opening the doors in an all men’s world to women.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie was an early Feminist and a trailblazer, active scientifically, socially, politically and even militarily. She was the early 20th century icon for the emancipated women and her success as a wife, mother and a scientist set the tone and opened the doors to future generations of women. Her memory must never be forgotten.