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Marie Curie

Marie Curie
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Marie Curie (1867-1934) was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and is still the only person ever to have won in two different scientific fields. Born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland to two teachers. A top student in her secondary school, she was not allowed to attend the University of Warsaw due to her gender. She studied in an underground school until she was able to enroll at the Sorbonne in Paris, where she completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and another the next year in mathematics. In 1895 she married her lab mate and fellow scientist Pierre Curie.

Soon Marie discovered that uranium cast off rays, which she theorized came from the element’s atomic structure. This idea created the field of atomic studies, and Marie herself coined the term ‘radioactivity’. Pierre soon put aside his own work to assist his wife. In 1898 the duo discovered the radioactive element they named polonium, after Marie’s home country. In 1902 they then produced the element radium. Read this paragraph again and let it soak in, folks.

In 1903 Marie Curie became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize, for her work on radioactivity. In 1906 Pierre was tragically killed, and Marie stepped in to take over his teaching post at the Sorbonne, becoming their first female professor. In 1911 she won her second Nobel, for her discovery of polonium and radium. After the outbreak of World War I, she developed the portable x-ray machine to aid injured soldiers on the front lines. After her death, she and Pierre were laid to rest in the Pantheon in Paris, making her the first and only woman to receive such an honor. Her greatest posthumous honor would be when her daughter Irene won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of artificial radioactivity, making Marie and Irene the only mother and daughter Nobel laureates and the Curie family the most-awarded.

Marie is regarded as one of if not the greatest scientist in human history and her work in radioactivity, beyond discovering the field and naming it, has saved countless lives around the world. It’s a good thing she didn’t listen when her country told her that women don’t do that sort of thing.