Marie Curie

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Marie Curie in the official 1911 Nobel Prize photo
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Marie Skłodowska Curie (born November 7, 1867 in Warsaw , Russian Empire ; † July 4, 1934 at Passy , née Maria Salomea Skłodowska ) was a physicist and chemist of Polish origin who lived and worked in France . She examined the radiation from uranium compounds observed by Henri Becquerel in 1896 and coined the word “ radioactive ” for this . As part of her research, for which she was awarded a partial Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 , she and her husband Pierre Curie discovered the chemical elements polonium and radium . Marie Curie is the only woman among the four people who have so far been awarded a Nobel Prize several times , and next to Linus Pauling the only person to have received Nobel Prizes in two different fields.

Marie Curie grew up in what was then part of Russia in Poland . Since women were not admitted to study there, she moved to Paris and began studying at the Sorbonne at the end of 1891 , which she completed with a degree in physics and mathematics. In December 1897 she began researching radioactive substances, which have since formed the focus of her scientific work. After the accidental death of Pierre Curie in 1906, his teaching duties were transferred to her. Two years later she was finally appointed to the chair for general physics that had been created for him. She was the first woman and the first professor to teach at the Sorbonne. When Marie Curie applied for a seat in the Académie des sciences in 1911 , and in the same year her relationship with Paul Langevin became known, articles appeared in the tabloids in which she was personally attacked and described as a stranger, intellectual, Jewish and strange woman.

During the First World War , Marie Curie worked as a radiologist, treating wounded soldiers. She developed an X-ray car that made it possible to carry out radiological examinations in the immediate vicinity of the front and participated in the qualification of the necessary technicians and nurses. After the war she became involved in the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations for better working conditions for scientists. At the Radium Institute in Paris, which she heads, she campaigned for the promotion of female and foreign students.

Live and act

Childhood and youth

Marie Curie's birth house in Warsaw

Maria Skłodowska was the youngest of five children of the teacher couple Bronisława and Władysław Skłodowski , who both came from the lower Polish landed gentry, the Szlachta , and belonged to the Polish intelligentsia . Her father Władysław studied at the University of Saint Petersburg and taught mathematics and physics at various state and private schools. Her mother Bronisława was educated at the girls 'boarding school on Freta Street (Ulica Freta) , the only private girls' school in Warsaw, where she then worked first as a teacher and later as headmistress and where the family lived when Maria was born. In 1868 her father was promoted to deputy director of a public school, whereupon the family moved to the larger official apartment associated with the position on Nowolipki Street (Ulica Nowolipki) . Around this time, Mary's mother fell ill with tuberculosis and had to give up her job. When her father was released from school in 1873, the family was forced for financial reasons to open a boarding school that initially accommodated two and later up to ten students. Maria started school at the age of six and first attended the girls' school on Fretastraße, which her mother ran. Two years later she switched to the nearby private school of Jadwiga Sikorska. After the failed January uprising of 1863, increasing Russification was carried out in the Russian-controlled part of Poland . Lessons could only be given in Russian , Polish history and culture could only be taught in secret, which was a challenge for teachers and students alike. In the autumn of 1878 Maria switched to the public high school No. 3. Shortly before, her mother had died of the consequences of her illness. In 1883, at the age of 15, Maria passed her Abitur as the best in her class. She spent the following year with relatives in the countryside as she showed signs of exhaustion.

Władysław Skłodowski with his three daughters Maria, Bronisława (Bronia) and Helena (around 1890, from left to right)

Maria was not allowed to study in Poland because women were not admitted to universities. Her father's financial situation did not allow support while studying abroad. In the late summer of 1884, Maria began giving private lessons in her father's apartment. During this time, she and her sister Bronia took part in courses at the Flying University (Uniwersytet Latający) , which was secretly organized by Jadwiga Szczawińska-Dawidowa , which enabled an academic education.

From September 1885 Maria worked for a short time as a private tutor for a family of lawyers. At the end of 1885 she took on a job as a tutor in the countryside in Szczuki near Przasnysz for three and a half years, with the task of teaching the two oldest daughters of the Żorawski family. On her evenings off, she read books on physics, sociology , anatomy, and physiology to gauge her inclinations and prepare for college. With the consent of the landlord and with the support of his eldest daughter, Maria gave reading and writing lessons to a dozen peasant children every day. When the eldest son of the Kazimierz Żorawski family returned home from university in the summer of the first year of their stay, the two fell in love. However, her marriage plans failed due to resistance from Kazimierz's family. In the spring of 1889, Maria ended his work with the Żorawskis. She found another tutoring job in a seaside resort on the Baltic coast. In order to be able to better support his daughters financially, her father took over the management of an agricultural educational institution in Studzieniec near Warsaw for two years after his retirement in April 1888.

From 1890 Maria lived again with her father in Warsaw. Her cousin Józef Boguski , a former assistant to Dmitri Mendeleev , was appointed head of the Warsaw Museum of Industry and Agriculture (Muzeum Przemysłu i Rolnictwa) . In the premises of the museum, which had its own laboratory, Maria was given the opportunity to carry out her own chemical and physical experiments for the first time, which strengthened her "inclination for experimental research in the field of physics and chemistry" and made her wish to take up a science degree in Paris encouraged.

First years in Paris

Pierre, Irène and Marie Curie in Paris in 1902

In 1891 Maria Skłodowska traveled to Paris, where she initially lived with her sister Bronia and her husband Kazimierz Dłuski in Rue d'Allemagne not far from Gare du Nord . On November 3rd, she enrolled as Marie Skłodowska to study physics at the Sorbonne . The university's 9,000 students that year included 210 women. Of the more than 1,825 students at the Faculté des Sciences , 23 were women. Her few fellow students mostly came from abroad, because at the time the French girls' schools did not teach the subjects of physics, biology, Latin and Greek, which are necessary for the baccalauréat exam. Marie had less knowledge than her French counterparts and the language problems were an additional challenge. In the winter of 1891/1892 she took part in a play hostile to Russia staged by exiled Poles, which annoyed her father very much.

In March 1892, Marie Skłodowska moved to a small, furnished room on Rue Flatters in the Latin Quarter , as she needed more quiet for her studies and wanted to live closer to the university's facilities. In their first year of study, the mathematician Paul Appell and the physicists Gabriel Lippmann and Edmond Bouty were among their teachers. The exams for the licentiate of physics (license des sciences physiques) she completed in July 1893 as the best. In the summer she was awarded the Alexandrovich Scholarship of 600  rubles , which enabled her to continue studying in Paris. She graduated with a degree in mathematics (license des sciences mathématiques) in July 1894 as the second best.

In early 1894, the Society for the Promotion of National Industry ( Société d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale ) commissioned Marie Skłodowska to conduct a study of the magnetic properties of various types of steel . She worked under very cramped conditions in the laboratory of her teacher Gabriel Lippmann and was looking for a more suitable place for her experiments, which she reported to the physicist Józef Kowalski, professor at the University of Freiburg . In spring Kowalski introduced her to Pierre Curie , who taught at the École municipale de physique et de chimie industrielles (EPCI, today: ESPCI) and headed the laboratory there. In the summer of 1894 Marie was looking for an interesting research activity in Poland. Not receiving a suitable offer, she decided to return to Paris for another year. There, a mutual affection developed from the professional collaboration with Pierre Curie. On July 26, 1895, Marie Skłodowska married Pierre Curie in the town hall of Sceaux . The couple moved into a three-room apartment on rue de la Glacière .

In her first year of marriage, Marie Curie prepared for the Agrégation , which would entitle her to teach at a girls' college and provide her with an income of her own. She passed the exams in the summer of 1896 again as the best in her course. At the same time, Marie Curie continued her physical studies. She attended lectures by Marcel Brillouin , among others, and documented her research on the magnetization of hardened steel, which was her first scientific publication. On September 12, 1897, she gave birth to their first daughter, Irène .

Scientific successes

New elements and discovery of radioactivity

Arrangement for measuring radioactivity:
A, B plate capacitor
C switch
E electrometer
H bowl for weights
P battery
Q piezoelectric quartz
Pierre and Marie Curie in their laboratory on rue Cuvier
A pitch aperture sample from Sankt Joachimsthal

When Marie Curie was looking for a topic for her doctoral thesis, she decided to turn to the "Becquerel rays". These designated in spring 1896 by Antoine Henri Becquerel accidentally discovered ability of uranium potassium sulphate, by itself , a photographic plate to blacken. It should be noted that these rays went almost unnoticed at the time, while the discovery of the X-rays that occurred during the operation of a cathode ray tube at the end of 1895 by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen attracted worldwide attention and triggered numerous research activities.

Initially, she intended to quantify the ionization capacity of the radiation emitted by uranium salts , and her experiments followed up the measurements carried out in the laboratory of Lord Kelvin at the end of 1897 . In the first few weeks of her experiments, which began on December 16, 1897, she and her husband Pierre developed a method based on a piezoelectric electrometer developed by Pierre, with which they could measure the change in the electrical conductivity of the air caused by the rays very precisely .

In this way, Marie Curie examined numerous uranium-containing metals, salts, oxides and minerals, which Henri Moissan , Alexandre Léon Étard (1852-1910), Antoine Lacroix and Eugène-Anatole Demarçay had made available. She found that pitchblende is four times and natural chalcolite twice as active as uranium. The measured activity of the uranium-containing substances proved to be independent of their aggregate state and was proportional to their uranium content. A control measurement on artificially produced chalcolite, which she had obtained from uranium nitrate , copper phosphate and phosphoric acid using the Debray method , confirmed this finding. Marie Curie concluded from this that the "Becquerel radiation" is a property of certain atoms and not a chemical property of the compound being investigated.

Her research results were presented on April 12, 1898 by Gabriel Lippmann before the Académie des sciences in Paris, since Marie Curie was not a member of the academy. The observation she made during these first investigations that thorium emits a radiation similar to uranium was discovered independently by Gerhard Schmidt (1865–1949) in early February 1898 and published at a meeting of the Physical Society in Berlin .

Marie Curie and her husband assumed that the high activity of the pitchblende was caused by an unknown chemical element . In the weeks that followed, they tried chemical methods to isolate this element. Soon they had produced intermediates that were much more active than pitchblende, and concluded that it was not a new element, but two different ones, one of which must be chemically similar to bismuth and the other to barium . However, the spectroscopic evidence of the first new element, which they named Polonium on June 13, 1898 in honor of Marie Curie's Polish homeland , failed. Nevertheless, five days later they had Henri Becquerel present their results at the Académie des sciences . The word “ radioactive ” was used for the first time in the title of the report . In July, Marie Curie was honored for her work on the magnetic properties of steel , and the radioactivity of 3800 francs doped Prix opponents of the sciences Académie awarded.

In the fall of 1898, Marie Curie suffered from inflammation of the fingertips, which were the first known symptoms of the radiation sickness from which she later suffered. After an extended summer holiday in Auvergne , the couple resumed their search for the second unknown element on November 11th. With the help of Gustave Bémont , they quickly succeeded in producing a sample that radiated 900 times as much as uranium . On December 20, the new element was named radium in the Curies laboratory book . This time, the spectroscopic examination carried out by Eugène-Anatole Demarçay on the sample revealed a spectral line that could not be assigned to any previously known element. On December 26, 1898, it was again Becquerel who reported the research results of the Curies to the academy.

Nobel Price for physics

Certificate of the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics , 25 percent for Marie Curie
In this shed Marie Curie isolated the radium .
Title page of Marie Curie's doctoral thesis

At the beginning of 1899, the research couple shifted their focus of work. Together with Georges Sagnac and André-Louis Debierne , Pierre Curie dealt with the physical effects of radioactivity. Marie Curie focused entirely on the chemical isolation of radium. To do this, she needed large amounts of pitchblende. Through the mediation of Eduard Suess , the incumbent President of the Academy of Sciences in Vienna , she received a ton of pitch cover waste from Sankt Joachimsthal , for which she only had to pay the transport costs. The EPCI gave her permission to use a draughty shed, which previously served as a dissecting room, for her tedious and physically demanding work.

In March 1900, Marie and Pierre Curie moved into an apartment on Boulevard Kellermann. In the same year, Marie was appointed as the first woman to teach physics at the École normal supérieure de jeunes filles (ENSJF) in Sèvres , which was France's most prestigious training center for future teachers. At a physicists' congress on the occasion of the Paris World Exhibition , the Curies presented their research results on radioactivity to numerous foreign physicists and on this occasion wrote their most extensive treatise to date with the title The new radioactive substances and the rays they emit .

The Académie des sciences supported Marie Curie's work financially. She was awarded the Prix ​​opponent twice more, in 1900 and 1902 . In 1903 she received the Prix ​​La Caze, endowed with 10,000  francs . The academy secured the continuation of its radium research in March 1902 with a loan of 20,000 francs. In July 1902 Marie Curie had obtained a decigram of radium chloride and was thus able to determine the atomic mass of radium very precisely.

She then turned to her dissertation with the title Recherches sur les substances radioactives (German: investigations over the radioactive substances ). She defended the doctoral thesis approved by Dean Paul Appell on May 11, 1903, on June 25 before Gabriel Lippmann, Henri Moissan and Edmond Bouty. The dissertation was translated into five languages ​​within one year and reprinted 17 times, including in the Chemical News published by William Crookes and the Annales de physique et chimie .

In early 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie had their first health problems, but they attributed them to overwork. Marie Curie had a miscarriage in August 1903, which further weakened her health. When the Royal Society awarded the couple on November 5, 1903 the Davy Medal , which is awarded annually for the most important discovery in the field of chemistry, Pierre Curie had to travel to London alone to receive the award.

In mid-November, the Curies received a letter from the Swedish Academy of Sciences informing them that they and Henri were "in recognition of the extraordinary achievements they have achieved through their joint research on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." Becquerel should receive the Nobel Prize in Physics . They did not take up the invitation to the official ceremony in December 1903, referring to their teaching duties and Marie's poor health. The trip to Stockholm , during which Pierre Curie gave a Nobel lecture on radioactive substances and especially radium, did not begin until June 1905.

Professor at the Sorbonne

After receiving the Nobel Prize, Marie and Pierre Curie made headlines in the French press. For example, Les Dimanches wrote : “The case of Monsieur and Madame Curie, who work together in the field of science, is certainly not the usual one. The world has never seen an idyll in the physics laboratory. ”() Marie Curie's role in researching radium was alternately underestimated or exaggerated and her Polish origins were often overlooked. With the reporters' intrusion into their privacy, the Curies felt more and more harassed.

On October 1, 1904, Pierre Curie took up his professorship at the chair of general physics at the Sorbonne, which had been specially created for him, and Marie Curie was given the management of the laboratory's scientific work (chef des travaux) .

At the beginning of December 1904 their second daughter Ève was born.

On April 19, 1906, Pierre Curie fell under the wheels of a truck and died at the scene of the accident. Marie Curie was hit hard by the loss, having lost both her beloved life partner and her scientific colleague. In the years that followed, when she suffered from depression, Pierre's father, Eugène Curie, and his brother, Jacques Curie, were of great support to her and their children. In the spring of 1907 she moved to rue Chemin de fer in Sceaux to be closer to Pierre's grave. After his death, she (partially) took her maiden name again.

The university's science faculty had to decide who should take Pierre Curie's chair. Since Marie Curie was the most suitable candidate to continue his lectures, a commission suggested on May 3rd that she should be given the responsibility for the course (chargé de cours) and head of the laboratory, but leave the chair vacant. Marie Curie gave up teaching at the girls' school in Sèvres and gave her first lecture on November 5, 1906, which attracted great public attention. She was the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne. The full professorship for physics was only transferred to her two years later, on November 16, 1908.

The international radium standard

Marie Curie and Ernest Rutherford first agreed on the creation of an international radium standard in the spring of 1910. In particular, the increased use of radium in medicine required precise and comparable measurement values. In the autumn in Brussels meeting participants Congress of Radiology and Electricity , the ten-member was International Radium Standard Commission formed the next Ernest Rutherford, Otto Hahn and Frederick Soddy and Marie Curie belonged. The commission stipulated that the unit of measurement for the activity should be called “ curie ” and commissioned Marie Curie to prepare a 20 milligram radium sample from radium chloride free of crystalline water, which was to serve as a standard . Further samples were to be produced at the Vienna Radium Institute , headed by Stefan Meyer . The comparison of the samples should be carried out by means of actinometric measurement of the gamma radiation emitted by the preparations .

In August 1911, Marie Curie's laboratory had completed a 22 milligram sample of radium chloride, which was officially declared an international standard at a meeting of the Radium Standards Commission in Paris at the end of March 1912. Together with André-Louis Debierne , she deposited the glass tube with the radium standard on February 21, 1913 at the Bureau International des Poids et Mesures in Sèvres.

Public perception 1910/1911

Failed admission to the Académie des sciences

In a vote on the occupation of a vacant place in the Académie des sciences, Curie narrowly defeated the physicist Édouard Branly in January 1911 . The place was vacated on October 31, 1910 by the death of the chemist and physicist Désiré Gernez (1834-1910). Soon afterwards, the French press speculated about a Curie candidacy. She was already a member of the Swedish (1910), Czech (1909) and Polish Academy (1909), the American Philosophical Society (1910) and the Imperial Academy in St. Petersburg (1908) as well as an honorary member of numerous other scientific associations. In an extensive article in the Le Temps newspaper that appeared on December 31, 1910, Jean Gaston Darboux , the academy's secretary, publicly campaigned for Marie Curie's candidacy.

On January 4, 1911, twice as many members as usual came to the scheduled plenary session of the Institut de France in the Palais Mazarin to discuss Marie Curie's candidacy under the direction of Arthur Chuquet . After a controversial discussion, a motion to stick to the traditions of the institute and not admit female members received a majority of 85 to 60 votes. Five days after this decision, a committee of the Académie des Sciences met in a secret meeting to make the nominations for the vacant seat. Contrary to the decision of the institute, Marie Curie was placed at the top of the nomination list, which was officially announced on January 17th. Her fiercest competitor among the six other nominees was the physicist Édouard Branly , with whom she had received the Prix ​​Osiris in 1903 . The final vote took place on January 24, 1911. For the election to the academy the absolute majority of the 58 members present was necessary, i.e. 30 votes. In the first vote, Edouard Branly received 29 votes, Marie Curie 28 votes and Marcel Brillouin one vote. In the second ballot, Branly had 30 votes and Marie Curie had 28 votes, who had lost the election.

The entire political spectrum of the Paris daily newspapers took part in the accompanying press debate. The socialist newspaper L'Humanité ridiculed the Institut de France as a "misogynist institute". Le Figaro , on the other hand, wrote that "one should not try ... to make women equal to men!" The sharpest attacks came from the right-wing daily newspapers Action française by Léon Daudet and L'Intransigeant .

Marie Curie never applied for a place in the academy again. It was only 51 years after its unsuccessful attempt that the Académie des sciences chose a woman in its ranks , Marguerite Perey , who discovered the Francium .

The "Langevin Affair"

Paul Langevin ( standing to the far right of Albert Einstein ) and Marie Curie (seated at the table) during the first Solvay conference on physics in 1911

At the end of 1911, the French press dealt with Curie's relationship with Paul Langevin , who was five years her junior and a student of her husband Pierre, who died in 1906. The families were friends and occasionally spent summer vacations together. Marie Curie and Paul Langevin had a love affair since mid-July 1910 at the latest. They met in a jointly rented apartment, where they also kept their correspondence. Langevin's wife soon became aware of the intimacy of the two and threatened Marie Curie with murder. Around Easter 1911, the letters that Marie Curie and Paul Langevin had written to each other were stolen from their shared apartment. In August 1911, Langevin's wife filed for divorce and sued her husband for "intercourse with a concubine in the marital home." In order to be prepared for the public trial and the threatened publication of the letters, Marie Curie enlisted the help of the lawyer Alexandre Millerand , who became French president in the 1920s.

One day after the end of the first Solvay Conference , which was held from October 30 to November 3, 1911 and was the only woman in the Curie, Fernand Hauser (1869–1941) published an article with the headline in Le Journal "A Lovestory. Madame Curie and Professor Langevin ”. The newspaper Le Petit Journal followed the next day with the same story and threatened on 6 November with the publication of love letters. Four days after the initial allegations, Le Temps published a reply from Curie in which she vigorously denied the allegations. Left-wing magazines and newspapers such as Gil Blas and L'Humanité defended Curie, while the moderate press remained silent. She was supported by scientists such as Perrin, Poincaré, Borel, Einstein and Pierre's brother Jacques.

From November 18, 1911, Maurice Pujo (1872–1955), co-founder of the magazine L'Action française , attacked Marie Curie almost every day in a series of articles entitled Pour une mère (German: For a mother ). L'Action française and L'Intransigeant threatened to publish their correspondence with Paul Langevin. Five days later, Gustave Téry published a ten-page excerpt from his correspondence from the summer of 1910 in L'Œuvre. Téry described her as "a stranger, an intellectual, an emancipate" and a foreigner who was destroying a French home. As a result, there were five duels , including one between Paul Langevin and Gustave Téry on November 26th. In this pistol duel, however, there was no exchange of fire.

The hostility peaked when the newspaper L'Œuvre “discovered” Marie Curie's middle name Salomea and, in its December 20, 1911 edition, asked: “Is Madame Curie Jewish?” And claimed: “Your father is indeed a convert Jew". After Paul Langevin and his wife reached an out-of-court settlement, the attacks eventually ebbed. The allegations raised during the "Langevin Affair" and the associated "flaw" accompanied Marie Curie for the rest of her life.

Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Other Research

Certificate of the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry

When the publications about the "Langevin Affair" began in the French press, discussions were held in Stockholm about the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry . The Nobel Committee concerned about the reports commissioned August Gyldenstolpe (1849–1928) to question the Swedish Ambassador to France, Curie and Langevin, about the allegations. The Academy’s decision on November 7, 1911 to award the Chemistry Prize to Marie Curie, which Christopher Aurivillius , then Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy of Sciences telegraphed to her, was the first time that a person was awarded a Nobel Prize for the second time .

The French media reported only sparsely about this award. The subsequent publication of the correspondence and Langevin's duel disturbed the Swedish Academy of Sciences: Academician Svante Arrhenius , Nobel Prize winner in chemistry in 1903, wrote her a letter in which he tried to dissuade her from going to the award ceremony, which she did definitely rejected. Despite all odds, Marie Curie traveled with her sister Bronia and daughter Irène to the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, where she received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry on December 10th “in recognition of her contribution to the progress of chemistry through the discovery of the elements radium and Polonium, by isolating the radium and studying the nature and compounds of this remarkable element ”. The production of metallic radium , which she and André-Louis Debierne succeeded in doing , was particularly praised. The next day she gave her Nobel Lecture.

After returning from Stockholm, Marie Curie's health deteriorated. She suffered from an inflammation of the kidney pelvis that had to be treated surgically. She moved from her home in Sceaux, where she was cursed by neighbors, to the fourth floor of an apartment building on Quai de Béthune on Île Saint-Louis . In 1912 and 1913 she mostly traveled under a false name and asked friends and relatives not to provide any information about her whereabouts. In July 1912 she stayed in England with Hertha Marks Ayrton , the wife of William Edward Ayrton , who had tried in vain for admission to the Royal Society and who became an important friend to her. For eleven years she no longer published her articles in the Comptes rendus , the publication organ of the Academy of Sciences, but instead preferred journals such as Le Radium and the Journal de physique .

In the course of 1913 her health improved, and together with Heike Kamerlingh Onnes she was able to investigate the properties of radium radiation at low temperatures. In March 1913 she received a visit from Albert Einstein , with whom she went on a summer excursion to the Swiss Engadine . In October she attended the second Solvay conference , and in November she traveled to Warsaw to inaugurate the Radium Institute built in her honor.

Radiologist in the First World War

Marie Curie at the wheel of an X-ray truck

As early as the second week of the First World War , Marie Curie found a new field of activity in radiology . From the radiologist Henri Béclère, a cousin of Antoine Béclère (1856–1939), she learned the basics of radiation treatment and immediately passed this knowledge on to volunteers.

The hospitals where she worked suffered from an acute shortage of staff and adequate X-ray machines , and the power supply was inadequate. These circumstances gave them the idea of ​​creating a mobile X-ray facility with which wounded soldiers could be examined in the immediate vicinity of the front. With the support of the French Women's Union , Marie Curie succeeded in equipping the first X-ray trolley. To work at the front, she needed the approval of the Service de Santé military health service . However, there was no one there who was ready to process her application until it finally came to the Minister of War Alexandre Millerand , her former lawyer in the "Langevin Affair" . He passed her request on to General Joseph Joffre , the commanding officer at the front, who finally approved Marie Curie's request. Accompanied by her daughter Irène and a mechanic, she drove for the first time on November 1, 1914 with her X-ray vehicle to a Second Army hospital in Creil , which was 30 kilometers behind the front line. During the war Marie Curie equipped a total of 20 radiological vehicles. In July 1916 she got her driver's license in order to be able to drive the vehicles herself.

With the help of private donations and the support of the Le Patronage National des Blessés committee , around 200 new or improved radiological centers were created with the help of Marie Curie. Together with her eighteen-year-old daughter Irène, she gave six-week intensive courses from October 1916 at the new training hospital, named after the British nurse Edith Cavell who was executed by the Germans , where women were trained as X-ray technicians (manipulatrices) . Around 150 women had successfully completed these courses by the end of the war. Marie Curie described her experiences with the use of radiological methods during the war in her book La Radiologie et la Guerre , published in 1921.

Stay in America

Marie Curie visiting the Standard Chemical Company in 1921
Marie Curie with her daughters Irène and Eve and Marie Melony upon their arrival in New York City on May 12, 1921

In May 1920, Marie Curie granted an interview to Marie Melony (1878-1943), editor of the American women's magazine The Delineator . The simple demeanor of Marie Curie and the meager conditions at the Institut du Radium under which she worked impressed Melony. In the course of the conversation she learned that Curie's most pressing wish was to receive a gram of radium to continue her research. The institute's supplies had plummeted as a result of the therapy treatments in World War I, and the retail price for a gram of radium at that time was an unaffordable US $ 100,000 for the institute .

Upon her return, Melony formed the Marie Curie Radium Fund Committee in the United States with the aim of raising $ 100,000 for the procurement of one gram of radium. On May 3, 1921, the committee, which had raised $ 82,000 by then, awarded the contract for the production of the desired radium to the Standard Chemical Company in Pittsburgh , which had been producing radium in large quantities since 1911. Melony convinced Marie Curie of the need for a longer trip to America. She prepared this with the edition of Delineator in April 1921, which was almost exclusively dedicated to Marie Curie .

On May 4, 1921, Marie Curie went on board the RMS Olympic together with her two daughters and accompanied by Marie Melony . She arrived in New York City seven days later , where she was greeted by a large crowd. Her arrival was featured on the front page of the New York Times under the headline Madame Curie Intends to End Cancer . Curie’s reply that “radium is not a cure for any kind of cancer” was only brought to the New York Times on page 22. During her stay, her role as a scientist was pushed into the background and she was presented primarily as a “female healer”. Marie Curie first attended various women's colleges that had donated for her as part of Melonys campaign. The highlight was an event organized by the American Association of University Women on May 18 , where they spoke to 3,500 women.

After President Warren G. Harding symbolically presented her with the gram of radium she had collected in the Blue Room of the White House on May 20, Curie began a tour of the United States. Their destinations were the laboratory of Bertram Boltwood , the factories of the Standard Chemical Company in Oakland and Canonsburg , but also Niagara Falls and the Grand Canyon . The numerous public appearances exhausted her, and more and more often she was represented by her daughters.

During her stay, she was awarded nine honorary doctorates. However, the physics department at Harvard University refused to give her this honor on the grounds that "she has not done anything important since 1906". Before her return on June 25 on board the RMS Olympic , Curie apologized for her health problems: “My work with the radium ... especially during the war has damaged my health so badly that I am unable to visit all laboratories and colleges to see, for which I have a deep interest. "

In October 1929 Marie Curie traveled to America a second time. During her second visit, President Herbert C. Hoover presented her with a check for $ 50,000 for the purchase of radium for the Radium Institute in Warsaw .

Working for the League of Nations

On the recommendation of the President of the League of Nations Council Léon Bourgeois , the Assembly of the League of Nations asked the Council on September 21, 1921 to appoint a commission to promote cooperation. The formation of the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation was officially decided on January 14, 1922 by the League Council. It should include twelve members appointed by the council who were elected on the basis of their scientific reputation and regardless of nationality. Marie Curie was among the scientists selected from a list of 60 candidates whose nomination was announced on May 15, 1922.

During her twelve years at the commission - for a time she was its vice-president - she campaigned for the establishment of an international bibliography of scientific publications, endeavored to draw up guidelines for the cross-border award of research grants and tried to achieve uniform copyright protection for scientists and researchers to establish their inventions.

The Radium Institute Paris

The establishment of the Institut du Radium on Rue des Nourrices (later Rue Curie ) was inspired by an idea by Émile Roux , head of the Institut Pasteur , in 1909. Together with the vice rector of the university, Louis Liard (1846-1917), he worked out a plan for two separate laboratories. One was to research the physics and chemistry of radioactive elements and be directed by Marie Curie, the other had the task of studying the medical applications of radioactivity under the direction of Claude Regaud (1870–1940). Construction work according to the plans of the architect Henri-Paul Nénot began in 1912.

In 1914, Marie Curie was appointed director of the Radium Institute. When the First World War broke out, she stayed in Paris to watch over the radium supply of the institute. The radium, which was relocated to Bordeaux in lead containers on 3 September 1914 for safety reasons on behalf of the French government , returned to the institute in 1915. That year, Marie Curie gradually moved from her old laboratory to the new building.

In 1916 the Department of Emanation was created at the institute's suggestion . The radium and radon ampoules produced for "radium therapy" were used to treat wounded soldiers. Henri de Rothschild (1872–1946) founded the Curie Foundation in 1920 to support scientific and medical work at the institute. The Académie nationale de Médecine took Marie Curie on February 7, 1922 "in recognition of her services in the discovery of radium and a new method of cancer treatment, the Curie therapy" as a free member.

The first courses at the institute began in the spring of 1919. From 1919 to 1934, employees of the Radium Institute published a total of 438 scientific articles, including 34 dissertations. 31 articles were from Marie Curie. Significant work came from, for example, Salomon Aminyu Rosenblum (1896–1959), who demonstrated the fine structure of alpha radiation , and from Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie , who succeeded for the first time in artificially producing a radionuclide . Marie Curie deliberately encouraged women and students from abroad. In 1931, twelve of 37 researchers at the institute were women, including Ellen Gleditsch , Eva Ramstedt and Marguerite Perey , who made significant contributions to research into radioactivity.


Marie Curie did not live to see her daughter Irène being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, which she and her husband received in 1935 “in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements”. She died on July 4, 1934 in the Sanatorium Sancellemoz near Passy (Haute-Savoie). "Aplastic pernicious anemia" was given as the cause of death, ie damage to the bone marrow , which can probably be traced back to her many years of handling radioactive elements. This was the opinion of Claude Regaud, professor at the Radium Institute in Paris, who wrote that you could count among the victims of radium.

The harmful effects of ionizing radiation were largely unknown at the time of her work. Therefore, the necessary security measures were developed later. Among other things, Marie Curie had carried test tubes with radioactive material in her pocket and kept them in her desk; she described her faint glow in the dark in her notes. Despite decades of exposure to ionizing radiation and chronic illnesses, and although she was concerned about deaths from leukemia in colleagues and workers working with radioactive materials, she has never recognized the health risks involved.

Because of her radioactive contamination, Marie Curie's notes from the 1890s and even her cookbook must still be kept in lead-shielded containers; viewing them is only allowed with protective clothing.

Marie Curie was buried in Sceaux with her husband Pierre . In 1995, their remains were transferred to the Panthéon in Paris in honor of their services . Marie Curie became the first woman to be honored for her own achievements by burial in the Panthéon.

Appreciation and reception

Monument in Warsaw

Marie Curie's scientific work has been honored with numerous science prizes and medals. These included the Actonian Prize of the Royal Institution of Great Britain (1907), the Ellen Richards Prize , the American Association to Aid Scientific Research by Woman (1921), the Grand Prix du Marquis d'Argenteuil , and the Société d'Encouragement pour l Industry National (1923) and the Cameron Prize of the University of Edinburgh (1931). So far, she is the only woman to have been awarded two Nobel Prizes. She was a member and honorary member of a large number of scientific societies and received honorary doctorates from universities around the world, the five-page listing of which in Ève Curie's 1937 biography of her mother was. In 1932 she was elected a member of the Leopoldina .

In honor of Marie and Pierre Curie, the names of the chemical element curium and the unit curie have been chosen, the curie is a unit of measurement for the activity of a radioactive substance. The Curie Island in Antarctica was also named after them in 1951 . The Pierre and Marie Curie University in Paris, the Maria Curie Skłodowska University in Lublin and the Curie Metropolitan High School in Chicago, as well as several schools, for example in Germany, bear Marie Curie's name. Under the name Marie Curie Program (since 2007 Marie Curie Actions ), the European Commission supports young scientists in several research training and mobility programs.

The Radium Institute Paris and the Curie Foundation merged in 1970 to form the Institut Curie , which is dedicated to research, teaching and cancer treatment in the spirit of Marie Curie. In 1992, the former Marie Curies laboratory was opened to the public as the Curie Museum . It also serves as an archive. The Association Curie et Joliot-Curie looks after the estate of the Curie family. On the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Curie Foundation , the remains of Marie and Pierre Curie were transferred to the Paris Panthéon in 1995 .

Due to her biography, Marie Curie was appropriated by the Polish women's movement for their goals while she was still alive . However, Marie Curie was not committed to this movement and did not support its goals.

For a long time, Marie Curie's public image was largely determined by the exaggerated biographical presentation written by her daughter Ève. Ève Curie represented a woman who had devoted herself entirely to science and who was immune to personal defeat. The refusal of Marie Curie to join the French Academy of Sciences and the "Langevin Affair" were mentioned only in passing. The diaries kept in the French National Library, which Marie Curie began after the death of her husband, did not become accessible to research until 1990. Susan Quinn (* 1940) was able to research for her book Marie Curie. Evaluate a biography of previously inaccessible documents about the “Langevin Affair” and thus draw a very differentiated picture of Marie Curie's personality.

In 1985, the University of Hamburg came to the following conclusion in its booklet accompanying the exhibition Women in Science :

“Marie Curie is probably the best-known physicist because of the Nobel Prizes she received in physics (1903, together with Pierre Curie and Becquerel) and chemistry (1911). The difficulties she encountered are usually less well known: she was not admitted to study at Warsaw University, earned the money for her first research as a girls' school teacher, and in 1911 (!) She was accepted into the French Academy of Sciences refused. Her involvement with the League of Nations seems to be similarly unknown: from 1922 to 1934 she was Vice President of the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation at the League of Nations. They were also very interested in the possibilities of medical use of their discoveries. "

Fonts (selection)


  • Research on substances radioactives . Gauthier-Villars, Paris 1903; online (German edition: Investigations on radioactive substances . Vieweg and Son, Braunschweig 1903, translated by Walter Kaufmann ; , )
  • Traité de Radioactivité . 2 volumes, Gauthier-Villars, Paris 1910 (German edition: The radioactivity . Academic publishing company, Leipzig 1911–1912, translated by B. Finkelstein)
  • La Radiologie et la Guerre . Félix Alcan, Paris 1921; (on-line)
  • Pierre Curie . Translated into English by Charlotte and Vernon Kellogg. Macmillan Co., New York 1923; French edition (online)
  • L'Isotopie et les éléments isotopes . Albert Blanchard: Paris 1924.
  • Les rays α, β, γ des corps radioactifs in relation to the structure nucléaire , Hermann & Cie: Paris 1933; (on-line)
  • Radioactivity . Hermann & Cie., Paris 1935 - posthumously
  • Irène Joliot-Curie (Ed.): Prace Marii Skłodowskiej-Curie . Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe, Warszawa 1954 (works in Polish and French)
  • Autobiography . Panstwowe Wydawnictwo Naukowe: Warszawa 1959 (German edition: Selbstbiographie . BG Teubner, Leipzig 1962, new edition Hagen and Norderstedt 2016, ISBN 978-3-7412-8471-7 ) - posthumously

Journal articles

  • Propriétés magnétiques des aciers trempés. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 125, pp. 1165-1168, 1897; (on-line)
  • Propriétés magnétiques des aciers trempés. In: Bulletin de la Societe d'Encouragement pour l'Industrie Nationale. January 1898, 5th Series, Vol. 3, pp. 36-76.
  • Rayons émis par les composés de l'uranium et du thorium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 126, pp. 1101-1103, 1898; (on-line)
  • Sur une substance nouvelle radio-active, contenue dans la pechblende. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 127, pp. 175-178, 1898; online - with Pierre (discovery of polonium)
  • Sur une nouvelle substance fortement radio-active contenue dans la pechblende. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 127, pp. 1215-1217, 1898; online - with Pierre and Gustave Bémont, presented by Henri Becquerel (Discovery of Radium)
  • Sur la radio-activité provoquée par les rayons de Becquerel. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 129, pp. 714-716, 1899; (on-line)
  • Effets chimiques produits par les rayons de Becquerel. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 129, pp. 823-825, 1899; (on-line)
  • Sur la charge électrique des rayons déviables du radium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 130, pp. 647-650, 1900; (on-line)
  • Les nouvelles substances radioactives et les rayons qu'elles emettent. In: Rapports présentés au congrès International de Physique réuni à Paris en 1900 sous les auspices de La Société Française de Physique. Gauthier-Villars, Paris 1900, Volume 3, pp. 79–114 - with Pierre
  • Sur les corps radioactifs. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 134, pp. 85-87, 1902; (on-line)
  • Sur le poids atomique du radium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 135, pp. 161-163, 1902; online - presented by Eleuthère Mascart (atomic weight of radium 225 ± 1)
  • Sur la diminution de la radioactivité du polonium avec le temps. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 142, pp. 273-276, 1906; online - presented by Pierre Curie (Half-life of Polonium)
  • Sur le poids atomique du radium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 145, pp. 422-425, 1907; online (atomic weight of radium 226.45)
  • Action de la pesanteur sur le dépôt de la radioactivité induite. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 145, pp. 477-480, 1907; (on-line)
  • Action de l'émanation du radium sur les solutions de sels de cuivre. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 147, pp. 345-349, 1908; online - with Ellen Gleditsch (1879–1968)
  • Sur le radium metal. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 151, pp. 523-525, 1910; online - with André-Louis Debierne (metallic radium)
  • The radiation of radium at the temperature of liquid hydrogen. In: Proceedings of the Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen. Volume 15 II, pp. 1406-1430, Amsterdam 1913 PDF - with Heike Kamerlingh Onnes
  • Sur la vie moyenne de l'ionium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 190, pp. 1289-1292, 1930; online - with Sonia Cotelle
  • Sur une relation entre la constante de désintégration des radioéléments émettant des rayons et leur capacité de filiation. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 191, pp. 326-329, 1930; online - with Georges Fournier
  • About the relation entre l'émission de rayons de long parcours et de rayons. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 191, pp. 1055-1058, 1930; (on-line)
  • Specter magnétique des rayons du dépôt actif de l'actinon. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 193, pp. 33-35, 1931; online - Salomon Aminyu Rosenblum (1896–1959)
  • Sur la structure fine du specter magnétique des rayons du radioactinium. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 194, pp. 1232-1235, 1932; online - with Salomon Aminyu Rosenblum
  • Sur la structure fine du specter magnétique des rayons du radioactinium et de ses dérivés. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. 196, pp. 1598-1600, 1933; online - with Salomon Aminyu Rosenblum

Films about Marie Curie



  • P. Adloff, K. Lieser, G. Stöcklin (Eds.): 100 Years after the Discovery of Radiochemistry . Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, 1996, ISBN 3-486-64252-9 .
  • Christophe Charle, Eva Telkes: Les professeurs de la faculté des sciences de Paris. Dictionnaire biographique 1901–1939 . INRP, Paris 1989, ISBN 2-222-04336-0 .
  • Eve Curie: Madame Curie. Life and work . Gutenberg Book Guild, Zurich / Prague 1938. (William Heinemann Ltd, London / Toronto 1947) online (translated from the French by Maria Giustiniani).
  • Marie Skłodowska Curie: autobiography . Reprint of the first edition. B. G. Teubner Verlagsgesellschaft, Leipzig 1962.
  • Barbara Czarniawska, Guje Sevón: The Thin End of the Wedge: Foreign Women Professors as Double Strangers in Academia. In: Gender, Work & Organization. Volume 15, No. 3, 2008, pp. 235-287. doi: 10.1111 / j.1468-0432.2008.00392.x , PDF online .
  • Françoise Giroud: “Mankind also needs dreamers” Marie Curie . Econ & List Taschenbuchverlag, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-612-26602-0 .
  • Peter Ksoll, Fritz Vögtle: Marie Curie . Rowohlt 1988.
  • Otto Hittmair: Ernest Rutherford and the Vienna Radium Institute: A comment on an exchange of letters, essentially concerning Marie Curie, with the institute director Stefan Meyer. In: Meeting reports and scoreboards of the math and science class. Department II: Mathematical, Physical and Technical Sciences. Volume 211, 2002, pp. 175-190; (on-line)
  • Ann M. Lewicki: Marie Sklodowska Curie in America. In: Radiology. Volume 223, pp. 299-303, 2002. doi: 10.1148 / radiol.2232011319
  • Milorad Mlađenović: The History of Early Nuclear Physics (1896–1931) . World Scientific, 1992, ISBN 981-02-0807-3 .
  • Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography . Insel-Verlag, Frankfurt am Main 1999, ISBN 3-458-16942-3 .
  • Sara Rockwell: The Life and Legacy of Marie Curie. In: Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. Volume 76, 2003, pp. 167-180, PMC 2582731 (free full text)
  • Natalie Stegmann: Marie Curie: A scientist in the thicket of historical possibilities. In: Bea Lundt , Bärbel Völkel (Ed.): Outfit and Coming-out: Gender worlds between fashion, laboratory and line . LIT Verlag, Berlin / Hamburg / Münster 2007, ISBN 978-3-8258-0491-6 , pp. 37-74.
  • Gilette Ziegler (Ed.): Correspondance: Choix de lettres (1905–1934) . Éditeurs français rénuis, Paris 1974.

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Françoise Giroud: “Mankind also needs dreamers” Marie Curie. P. 22.
  2. ^ Marie Skłodowska Curie: autobiography. P. 15.
  3. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 71.
  4. ^ Marie Skłodowska Curie: autobiography. P. 18.
  5. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 109.
  6. Barbara Czarniawska , Guje Sevón: The Thin End of the Wedge: Foreign Women professor as Double Strangers in Academia. P. 170.
  7. Ksöll, Vögtler, pp. 37–38.
  8. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 116.
  9. Ksöll, Vögtler, pp. 48–49.
  10. Milorad Mlađenović: The History of Early Nuclear Physics (1896–1931). P. 4.
  11. Lord Kelvin, John Carruthers Beattie, Marian Smoluchowski de Smolan: Electrification of Air by Röntgen Rays. In: Nature. Volume 55, pp. 199-200, read December 21, 1896 ( doi: 10.1038 / 055199a0 ).
  12. ^ John Carruthers Beattie: On the Electrification of Air by Uranium and Its Compounds. In: Proceedings of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Volume 21, pp. 466-472, Edinburgh 1897.
  13. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 166.
  14. Gerhard Carl Schmidt: About the radiation emanating from the Thor compounds and some other substances. In: Annals of Physics and Chemistry. New Series, Volume 65, No. 5, pp. 141–151, Johann Ambrosius Barth, Leipzig 1898, (April 15, 1898); doi: 10.1002 / andp.18983010512 .
  15. ^ Gerhard Carl Schmidt: Sur les radiations émises par le thorium et ses composés. In: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences. Volume 126, pp. 1264, 1898; (on-line)
  16. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 174.
  17. Eve Curie: Madame Curie. P. 375.
  18. Ksöll, Vögtler, p. 61.
  19. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 176.
  20. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 208.
  21. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 205.
  22. ^ Sara Rockwell: The Life and Legacy of Marie Curie. P. 174.
  23. Susan Quinn: Marie Curie. A biography. P. 210.
  24. Information from the Nobel Foundation on the 1903 award ceremony for Marie Curie (English)
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  64. MME. CURIE PLANS TO END ALL CANCERS; Says Radium Is Sure Cure, Even in Deep-Rooted Cases, if Properly Treated. GETS TRIBUTE ON ARRIVAL Motherly Looking Scientist in Plain Black Frock Gives Thanks to Americans. Wanted to Come Here. Poles Great Scientist. In: The New York Times. May 21, 1921, p. 1 .. (Accessed March 1, 2009).
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  67. RADIUM PRESENTED TO madamecurie; Vial Containing Gram, Given by American Women, Is Handed to Her by President. NOTABLE GROUP ATTENDS Harding in White House Ceremony Pays Tribute to Her as the World's Foremost Scientist. In: The New York Times. May 21, 1921, p 12 . (Accessed March 1, 2009).
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Web links

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This article was added to the list of excellent articles on August 3, 2009 in this version .