Monday, May 28, 2012

Marie Curie: Later Life

1895-1906: Golden years
In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that strange rays come out of uranium. Marie decided she wanted to learn more about how this was possible.

In 1897 Marie gave birth to her first child, a daughter she named Irene.

Marie figured out that those strange rays did not come from molecules or groups of atoms. Instead, they came out of individual atoms.

Marie also figured out that uranium wasn't the only element that emitted rays. During her research, she discovered that the element thorium did also. She then wrote (in April 1898) that other, still unknown, elements existed and that these other elements emitted even stronger radiation than uranium. Pierre was so excited about this idea that he stopped doing his own research and started helping Marie with hers.

In July 1898, Marie and Pierre published a paper in which they told the world about their discovery of a new element. Marie named this new element polonium in honor of Poland. In December 1898 they published another paper in which they told about their discovery of a second new element. The Curies named this one radium because of the great radiation that came from it. In this second paper, they were the first to use the word radioactivity for the radiation that comes from atoms.

In 1903, Marie earned a doctoral degree in science from the University of Paris. Henri Becquerel was the professor who supervised her work. That same year, Henri, Marie, and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research on radioactivity. Marie was the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize.

In response to the Nobel Prizes, the University of Paris made Pierre Curie a professor of science and gave him a laboratory to use. He hired Marie as its director.

In 1904 Marie gave birth to her second child, a daughter she named Eve. For both daughters she hired Polish governesses. She wanted to make sure her children learned Polish.

1906-1934: Sadness and success
On a very rainy day in April 1906, Pierre was run over while crossing a street and died. Marie was very sad and felt very lonely from then on.

In May the University of Paris decided to give Pierre’s job as professor to Marie even though she was a woman. She was the first woman to be hired as a professor there. Marie also remained director of the laboratory. Still very sad and lonely after her husband’s death, she poured herself into her work.

In 1911, Marie won her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry. She was the first person to win a second prize and remains the only person to ever win two prizes in science. Following her second prize, she was able to get the French government to pay for a private research laboratory. It was built in 1914. Today it is known as the Curie Institute.

During World War I, she developed x-ray machines that could be used to treat wounded soldiers. She also helped to take x-rays. As many as 1,000,000 soldiers were x-rayed using her machines.

Marie continued to do scientific research until shortly before her death. She died on July 4, 1934, in Passy, France. She died of aplastic anemia: her body was unable to make new blood cells. This was caused by all the radiation she had exposed herself to. She was 66 years old.

Copyright © 2012 by Steven Farsaci. All rights reserved. Fair use encouraged.