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  Marie Sklodowska-Curie (* November 7, 1867 in Warsaw; † July 4, 1934 in Sancellemoz, (Haute-Savoie), France; born Maria Salomea Skłodowska) was a Polish chemist and physicist with French citizenship[1].

She did research in the field of radioactivity and was awarded both a Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) and Chemistry (1911) for her scientific achievements.


Childhood and adolescence

Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, in what was then Congress Poland. Her father Władysław Skłodowski, a staunch atheist, was a teacher of physics and mathematics at a high school in Warsaw. Her mother, Bronisława Boguska, who, unlike her husband, is very religious, was the director of a girls' school. The teacher couple had five children from 1862, Sofia, Josef, Bronisława, called Bronia, Helena and finally Marie. A year after she was born, the father became deputy director of the grammar school, whereupon the mother gave up her job and stayed at home to take care of the education of the five children. Maria's extraordinary intelligence caught her eye early on: by the age of four she could already read, texts that her older sister Bronia had great problems with. Soon the mother fell ill with tuberculosis and spent a few years in Austria and southern France for a cure. She only returned to Warsaw in 1873. Maria's father lost his job and had to work as a teacher again, and the family had to make do with less money from then on. Nevertheless, Maria started school at a private school. Władysław and Bronisława opened a boarding school for boys, in whose rooms the family also lived.

The family was hit by two severe blows in quick succession. In 1876 the eldest daughter Sofia died of a typhoid infection, two years later the mother also died. Maria suffered greatly from the losses and her father decided to put her in a public school where she was more distracted. In 1883 she graduated from high school as the best in her year. She traveled around for a year to relax, stayed with relatives and friends of her parents. In September 1884 she returned home.

At that time women were not allowed to study in Poland, so Maria trained herself further and attended, among other things, illegal meetings of a "flying university". Together with her sister Bronia, she came up with a plan. The sisters wanted to work one after the other to study in Paris. So that the elder Bronia should get this chance first, Maria started as governess for a wealthy lawyer in 1885, in January 1886 she got a job as a tutor for the Zorowski family. There she turned her interest increasingly to mathematics and physics. Kazimierz Zorowski, the eldest son in the family, also caught their attention. The love affair ended quickly, however, because Kazimierz's parents thought little of Maria, who lived in poor circumstances, as their daughter-in-law. In 1889 she worked again as a governess for a Polish family. A year later, she received the message from Bronia that she had almost finished her studies and that she wanted to get married. Maria looks after her sick father and continues to illegally study mathematics and physics on the side.

On September 23, 1891, she wrote a letter to her older sister in Paris asking if she could come to her to study in Paris as well. The move from Warsaw to the French capital followed at the beginning of November. Marie, as she called herself from then on, lived with her sister Bronia and her husband Kazimierz Dluskiuski, in the same house as their practice. On November 3rd, she began studying physics. She was one of the very few women in this degree.

Marie enjoyed intellectual freedom in France. In 1892 she moved into her own room, in which she had more peace than in her sister's house. In order to save heating and light, the young woman spent a lot of time in the library. After each semester she quit her apartment and spent the holidays at home in Poland.

In the summer of 1893 she got her licentiate in physics as the best and received a scholarship from which she was able to finance a degree in mathematics. She received her licentiate in mathematics in July 1894 as the second best.

Life with Pierre Curie

Gabriel Lippmann, who later won the Nobel Prize, placed an order with Marie. It was about the properties of different types of steel. She sought out Pierre Curie because he was supposed to help her as a specialist with information. There was mutual sympathy from the beginning, and after a short time Pierre Marie proposed marriage. At first she was unsure, feared that Poland and her sick father would finally be cut off. Nevertheless, the wedding took place on July 26, 1895 in Sceaux. Marie's father and her sister Helena traveled specially from Warsaw. As a honeymoon, Pierre and Marie took a bike ride around the capital.

In October, the young couple moved into their own apartment, close to the city's industrial physics and chemistry school, where Pierre worked. The director there, Paul Schützenberger, allowed Marie to work there with her husband in the laboratory. In 1897 she completed her thesis on the magnetic properties of various types of steel.

Pierre learned Polish and on September 12, 1897, the couple had their first daughter, Irène. Marie kept meticulous records of their progress and developments. Pierre's mother died of breast cancer and the young family moved with Pierre's father into a maisonette on Boulevard Kellermann. Pierre's father Eugene took care of little Irene, while her parents made their first discoveries in the field of radioactivity and received a Nobel Prize.

On December 6, 1904, Marie and Pierre Curie had another daughter, whom they named Eve. Two years later, on April 19, 1906, Pierre Curie had a fatal accident. He got under a cab and suffered a fractured skull. In the aftermath of Pierre's accident, Marie kept a diary. She suffered a lot from the loss and then really got into her work in order to forget the suffering.

Life as a widowed scientist

On May 11, 1906, Marie officially succeeded her husband. There was great interest in their lectures.

She hired a governess for her daughters and never spoke to them about her late father. In February 1910, her father-in-law Eugene died. Irene and Eve lost their closest confidante. To Marie's delight, the older daughter was enthusiastic about mathematics, while Eve's talent was more in music.

In 1911 she was the only woman to take part in the first Solvay conference, which was attended by numerous international scientists who would shape the worldview of physics (Max Planck, Albert Einstein and Ernest Rutherford).

In 1911 it was rumored that Marie Curie was having an affair with the married physicist Paul Langevin. After allegedly a letter from her to Langevin emerged in which she asked Langevin to deliberately wrong his wife and then to leave her, a scandal broke out in the course of which the French newspapers urged "the Polish woman" to leave the country to leave. Marie Curie therefore temporarily withdrew to England. (See Susan Quinn, Marie Curie. A Life. New York: Simon & Schuster 1995. The scandal is also described in Per Olov Enquist's documentary novel 'The Book of Blanche and Marie.' The daughter Eve Curie mentions the scandal in her biography her mother, however, only as an act of envious people without naming a name.)

In 1926, Irene married Marie's personal assistant, Frederic Joliot. On July 4, 1934, Marie Curie died of radiation exposure-induced leukemia. She was buried in the family vault. Today Marie Curie rests at the side of her husband Pierre in the Pantheon in Paris.

On the occasion of Marie Curie's 100th birthday in 1967, the Maria Skłodowska Curie Museum was set up in her rebuilt birthplace in Warsaw's New Town (at 16 Freta Street).


A first publication dealt with the magnetic properties of steel at different temperatures. Based on the work of her husband Pierre Curie, the temperature at which steel loses its magnetic properties is known as the Curie point.

In December 1897 she began theoretical work to study the radiation emitted by uranium, which was discovered shortly before by Henri Becquerel. She built on techniques developed by her husband. They were applied to a mineral rich in uranium, pitchblende.

She proved that the radiation emitted was directly dependent on the uranium content and independent of external influences (temperature, pressure, etc.).

In 1898, Pierre Curie abandoned his own work on piezoelectricity in order to join his wife's studies on radiation. The director of the institute gave him permission to use a room on the ground floor. The various series of chemical tests were carried out in a shed which was separated from the room by a courtyard.

In this room, which happened to be a laboratory, they examined the pitchblende and discovered two new elements. On July 18, 1898, Marie Curie announced the discovery of polonium, named after her homeland. On December 26, 1898, she and Gustave Bémont announced the discovery of radium; To do this, she had to process several tons of pitchblende in order to obtain less than one gram of this element. These extractions, in which tons of the mineral were broken down into its constituent parts, took place under adverse circumstances in places devoid of all comfort. The German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald, who visited the site of the work, stated:

“This laboratory served as a storage room for firewood and potatoes. If I hadn't seen the chemical equipment inside, I would have thought they were going to make fun of me. "

Together with her husband Pierre Curie and the physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel, she received the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 for her work on radioactivity

"[...] in recognition of the extraordinary merit that they have earned through their joint work on the radiation phenomena discovered by Antoine Henri Becquerel."

Eight years later she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She was elected a second time by the Nobel Prize Committee

“[...] as recognition of the service she has earned in the development of chemistry, through the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, through the characterization of radium and its isolation in a metallic state, and through her investigations into nature and the chemical compounds of this important element. "

Marie Curie was the first woman scientist to receive a Nobel Prize in this field, and at the same time is the only woman who has been awarded more than one Nobel Prize. In addition, Marie Curie and Linus Pauling are to date the only two people who have received a Nobel Prize in more than one area; Curie is the only one ever to have received it in two research disciplines.

Marie Curie decided not to patent the extraction process for these elements so that research could continue unhindered.

Her daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, also received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935.

Further honors

  • In 1903 she was awarded the Davy Medal of the London Royal Society.
  • The chemical element with atomic number 96 was named Curium (Cm) in her honor.
  • The asteroid (7000) Curie is named after her.
  • Between 1910 and 1978 the unit of measurement for the activity of a radioactive substance was called Curie, or Ci for short.
  • Countless schools, at the time the name was given, predominantly single-sex girls' schools, were named after her.
  • In the 1980s and 1990s, the European Union ran a doctoral scholarship program named after Marie Curie.
  • In 1995 the remains of Pierre and Marie Curie were transferred to the Panthéon.
  • The Radium Institute, founded by her and the Polish government in 1932, was renamed after her in 1951.


  • Research on substances radioactives, Dissertation, 1904, German: Investigations on the radioactive substances
  • Traité de radioactivité, 2 volumes, 1910, German: The radioactivity
  • La radiologie et la guerre, 1920
  • L'Isotopie et les éléments isotopes, 1924
  • The rays α, β, γ des corps radioactifs in relation to the structure nucléaire, 1933
  • Radioactivity, 1935


  • Museum in Warsaw (ulica Freta 16) (Poland)
  • Monuments in Lublin (Maria Curie Skłodowska University) and Police (Oder) (at the market in the old town: Plac Chrobrego / ulica Wojska Polskiego) (Poland)


  1. Quid 1989, p. 1190


  • Non-fiction
    • Eve Curie: Madame Curie. A biography. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2003, ISBN 3-596-22243-5.
    • Barbara Goldsmith: Obsessive genius. The inner world of Marie Curie. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London 2005, ISBN 0-297-84767-8.
    • Peter Ksoll: Marie Curie. With personal testimonials and picture documents. Rowohlt, Reinbek 2006, ISBN 3-499-50417-0.
    • Jean-Pierre Poirier: Marie Curie et les conquérants de l'atome (1896-2006). Pygmalion, Paris 2006, ISBN 2-7564-0052-1.
    • Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt / M. 1999, ISBN 3-458-16942-3.
    • Pierre Radvanyi: The Curies. A dynasty of Nobel Prize winners. Spectrum of Science Publishing Company, Weinheim 2003, ISBN 3-936278-49-0.
    • Sabine Seifert: One element of success, regardless of the profession, is the desire for craft. In: Charlotte Kerner (Ed.): Not just Madame Curie ... women who got the Nobel Prize. Belz Verlag, Weinheim 1999, ISBN 3-407-80862-3.
    • Paul Strathern: Curie & radioactivity. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 1999, ISBN 3-596-14121-4.
    • Cordula Tollmien: The most expensive element in the world. In: Charlotte Kerner (Ed): Madame Curie and her sisters. Women who got the Nobel Prize. Beltz Verlag, Weinheim 2004, ISBN 3-407-78868-1.
    • Dieter Wunderlich: Marie Curie. A life dedicated to radium research. In: Dieter Wunderlich: Wayward women. Ten portraits. Piper Verlag, Munich 2006, ISBN 3-492-24058-5.
  • Fiction
    • Steve Parker: Marie Curie and the radium. Peters, Hanau 1992, ISBN 3-87627-546-6.
    • Per Olov Enquist: The book by Blanche and Marie. novel. Fischer, Frankfurt / M. 2007, ISBN 978-3-596-17172-9.