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Marie Curie was a Polish-born French physicist famous for her work on radioactivity and twice a winner of the Nobel Prize.
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Born Maria Sklodowska on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland, Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win the award in two different fields (physics and chemistry). Curie's efforts, with her husband, Pierre Curie, led to the discovery of polonium and radium and, after Pierre's death, the development of X-rays. She died on July 4, 1934.
"I believe that Science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not a mere technician; he is also a child confronting natural phenomena that impress him as though they were fairy tales."
Maria Sklodowska, better known as Marie Curie, was born in Warsaw in modern-day Poland on November 7, 1867. Her parents were borth teachers, and she was the youngest of five children. As a child Curie took after her father, Ladislas, a math and physics instructor. She had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. But tragedy struck early, and when she was only 11, Curie lost her mother, Bronsitwa, to tuberculosis.
A top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the men-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw's "floating university," a set of underground, informal classes held in secret. Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie worked out a deal with her sister. She would work to support Bronya while she was in school and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.
For roughly five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. She used her spare time to study, reading about physics, chemistry and math. In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris where she enrolled at the Sorbonne in Paris. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost. With little money, Curie survived on buttered bread and tea, and her health sometimes suffered because of her poor diet.
Curie completed her master's degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year. Around this time, she received a commission to do a study on different types of steel and their magnetic properties. Curie needed a lab to work in, and a colleague introduced her to French physicist Pierre Curie. A romance developed between the brilliant pair, and they became a scientific dynamic duo.
Marie and Pierre Curie were dedicated scientists and completely devoted to one another. At first, they worked on separate projects. She was fascinated with the work of Henri Becquerel, a French physicist who discovered that uranium casts off rays, weaker rays than the X-rays found by Wilhelm Roentgen.
Curie took Becquerel's work a few steps further, conducting her own experiments on uranium rays. She discovered that the rays remained constant, no matter the condition or form of the uranium. The rays, she theorized, came from the element's atomic structure. This revolutionary idea created the field of atomic physics and Curie herself coined the word radioactivity to describe the phenomena. Marie and Pierre had a daughter, Irene, in 1897, but their work didn't slow down.
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