Thursday, August 9, 2007

Marie Curie (1867-1934)

Sierra Club


All my life through, the new sights of Nature made me rejoice like a child.


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A pioneer in the early field of radiation. Born in Warsaw, Poland, Curie moved to Paris and studied chemistry and physics at the Sorbonnne, where she became the first woman to teach there. At the Sorbonne she met another instructor, Pierre Curie and married him; together they studied radioactive materials: specifically the uranium ore pitchblende, which had the curious property of being more radioactive than the uranium extracted from it. The logical explanation of this was that the pitchblende contained traces of some unknown radioactive component that was far more radioactive than uranium. Over several years of unceasing labour they refined several tons of pitchblende, progressively concentrating the radioactive components, and eventually isolated two new chemical elements. The first they named polonium after Marie's native country, and the other was named radium from its intense radioactivity.

Together with Pierre, she was the first woman awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903: "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".

Eight years later, she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, 1911 "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element". In an unusual move, Curie intentionally did not patent the radium isolation process, instead leaving it open so the scientific community could research unhindered.

Her death in 1934 was from leukemia, almost certainly due to her massive exposure to radiation in her work. Her eldest daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie also won a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935, the year after Marie Curie died. In 1995, Mme. Curie was the first woman laid to rest under the famous dome of The Pantheon in Paris on her own merits. [This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License and uses material adapted in whole or in part from the Wikipedia article on Marie Curie.]

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