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8/4/2014 WiP: Herstory: Marie Curie

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Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Women in Physics Herstory
What Were Marie Curie's Achievements?
Marie Sklodowska Curie was one of the first
woman scientists to win worldwide fame, and
indeed, one of the great scientists of this century.
Winner of two Nobel Prizes (for Physics in 1903
and for Chemistry in 1911), she performed
pioneering studies with radium and contributed
profoundly to the understanding of radioactivity.
Marie Curie died from exposure to the radium
that made her famous. Einstein once said of her,
"Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the one
whom fame has not corrupted."
Madame Curie by Irene Curie
DaCapo Press 1937 ISBN 0306802813
(Photograph property of the Radium Institute)

Marie Curie's Primary Accomplishment
During the first years after the discovery of radioactivity, a large number of
chemists and physicists were busy studying the new phenomenon. Madame
Marie Sklodowska Curie, Polish born, educated in chemistry, and the wife of the
French physicist, Pierre Curie, carried out an extensive test of all chemical
elements and their compounds for radioactivity, and found that thorium emits
radiation similar to that of uranium. Comparing radioactivity of uranium ores with
that of metallic uranium, she noticed that ores are about five times more
radioactive than would be expected from their uranium content. This indicated
that the ores must contain small amounts of some other radioactive substances
much more active than uranium itself, but, to separate them, very large amounts of
expensive uranium ores were needed.
Madame Curie succeeded in obtaining from the Austrian government a ton of
worthless residues (at that time) from the state uranium producing plant in
Joachimschal (Bohemia) which, being deprived of uranium, still retained most of
its radioactivity. Being led by Theseus' thread of penetrating radiation, Madame
Curie managed to separate a substance having chemical properties similar to
those of bismuth, which she called polonium in honor of her native country. Still
8/4/2014 WiP: Herstory: Marie Curie
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more work, and another substance chemically similar to barium was separated
and received the name of radium; it was two million times more radioactive than
Madame Curies's death, at the age of 67, was due to leukemia, a disease which
is now known to be caused by exposure to the penetrating radiation. When
physicists learned better how to be careful with radiation, photographic films
were placed between the sheets of Madame Curie's laboratory books. The
developed films have shown numerous fingerprints caused by radioactive
deposits on the sheets touched by Madame Curie's fingers.
Biography of Physics, George Gamow. Harper & Row. 1961.
The photograph of Madame Curie is believed to be in the public domain. If you own
copyright to this photograph please send an email to www@physics.purdue.edu and either
the photograph will be removed or a copyright acknowledgement added.

Other Marie Curie Resources
Another Curie page...
Science in Poland's Marie Curie Page
Copyright 1999 WiP