Most people known Marie Currie for the female pioneer who broke open the world of science for other women to follow. However, below, we have six interesting facts about the famous scientist that you may not have known.
She Was the Daughter of Two Parents
Perhaps not surprising considering what she would become, Marie Curie was the fifth child of two teachers. She was actually born Maria Sklodowska.
She Was Very Proud of Her Ancestry
Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland, but at the age of 24, she would move to Paris to join her older sister who was studying there. However, she never shed her pride for Poland.
When she had children, she taught them Polish and would take them back to visit the country of her birth.
Upon discovering her first chemical element, Curie took the occasion to name it polonium after Poland.
Her Life Was Full of Firsts
There are a number of reasons Curie’s life is seen as an inspiration to many and she has become a feminist icon. Much of this has to do with how many firsts she achieved in her life, most at a very young age (even by today’s standards).
She was the first female to ever receive a Ph.D. from a university in French. Curie was also the first woman to be given a job as a professor at the University of Paris.
On top of being the first female to win the Nobel Prize, Curie also holds the distinction of being the first person ever to win it twice in two different fields (chemistry and physics).
She Worked with Her Husband
The first Nobel Prize she won she received alongside her husband and another partner. The scientifically gifted couple would work together throughout their lives.
Her Laboratory Was a Shack
The famous German chemist, Willhelm Ostwald once described the building Curie used to discover radium and polonium as “a cross between a stable and a potato shed.”
The story goes that Ostwald actually thought he was the victim of a practical joke the first time he was shown the building.
Although Curie would recall the makeshift laboratory fondly in later years, the amount of work she would have had to do in this leaky shack full of drafts is an amazing illustration of her dedication.
For example, to extract radioactive elements and isolate them, Curie would have spent full days at a cauldron stirring and stirring and stirring. Over the course of her career, she must have gone through tons of uranium.
She Didn’t Want to Profit from Her Discoveries
One might think that, given the state of her work area, Curie would have leaped at the opportunity to make some kind of profit after she famously discovered radium in 1898. However, both she and her husband wanted nothing to do with patenting their discovery or the money that would have come with it.
Instead, they went out of their way to share the isolated element with their fellow researchers and made no secret of the process they used to produce it. This was a galvanizing force behind the subsequent “radium boom” that spread throughout Europe and North America.
Ironically, Curie’s generosity and the subsequent gold rush for radium that followed meant that she later couldn’t afford to buy enough to continue her research. By the 1920s, a gram of it cost $100,000! That’s about $1.2 million in today’s money.
Though we hope you found these facts interesting, Curie’s life was full of countless more. Even after winning her second Nobel Prize, she would face resistance because of her gender and foreign roots. Nonetheless, she would go on to provide medical aid to French soldiers during the First World War, and much more. Her daughter, Irene, carried on Curie’s legacy, eventually winning a Nobel Prize of her own.