The radiant life of Marie Curie

Driving through an active war zone to save wounded soldiers, surviving a husband killed in a tragic accident, becoming the first person to win two Nobel prizes, and being one of the most respected scientists of all time.

An interesting resume, no?

Come with us as we explore the experiences that made Marie Curie’s life one of the most remarkable of the 20th century.

A life of firsts

In 1867, a 24-year-old Polish girl named Maria Skłodowska moved to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. She’d graduated high school with honors at age 15, but she’d worked to support her sister’s schooling for years afterward.

At long last, it was her turn.

After arriving in Paris, she started going by Marie and became an outstanding student in physics and math. She met physicist Pierre Curie in 1894 and they married in 1895.

Their joint research would rock the scientific world.

In a former storeroom, Marie laboriously tested and confirmed a discovery by a physicist named Becquerel that the element uranium constantly emitted rays that significantly but invisibly affected the environment around them. She and Pierre became obsessed with finding out if any other substances emitted these rays.

Years of research led to their discovery of two new elements. They named one polonium after Marie’s homeland and the other radium. Their efforts were the first extensive research of radioactivity – a word they’re credited with coining.

This work earned two Nobel prizes and made Marie Curie the first woman to earn a PhD from the Sorbonne. 

The first Nobel was awarded in 1903, and the Curies shared it with Becquerel for discovering radiation. Marie was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize. The second came in 1911 for the discovery of radium – five years after Pierre had been run over and killed by a horse-drawn cart in the streets of Paris.

Saving lives on the battlefield

After Germany declared war on France in 1914, Curie vowed to help her adopted home country.

Though she had only lectured about X-rays as the first woman to teach at the Sorbonne, she knew that bringing them to battlefields would save lives. They’d allow doctors to diagnose and treat injuries more quickly and with more precision.

She created and led a unit of the Red Cross with the assistance of her 17-year-old daughter that developed mobile X-ray labs in loaned vehicles. They traveled into WWI war zones to assist doctors, helping alleviate suffering and saving many lives.

A radiant life

Though she’d die in 1934 from a rare disease brought on by her long exposure to radioactive substances without proper protection, Curie’s tireless work in the field led to some of the most important scientific discoveries of the last century. Her endeavors at the Radium Institute (now the Curie Institute) in Paris following WWI had long-lasting impacts on research into how radiation could be used in medical, commercial, and defense spheres.

Even long after her death, Curie broke barriers no woman ever had. Sixty years following her passing, she became the first woman buried in Paris‘ Panthéon, a national mausoleum where the likes of Victor Hugo, Voltaire, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau also lie. 



radiant – strahlend

war zone – Kriegsgebiet

wounded soldiers – verwundete Soldaten

survive – überleben

Nobel prize – Nobelpreis

remarkable – bemerkenswert

a life of firsts – der Lebensweg der Ersten

at long last – endlich

to be one‘s turn – an der Reihe sein

with honors – mit Auszeichnungen

outstanding student – ausgezeichnete Studentin

storeroom – Abstellraum, Lagerraum

laboriously – mühevoll und aufwändig

emit rays – Strahlen ausstoßen, Strahlen emittieren

invisibly effect sth. – unsichtbar auf etw. auswirken

become obsessed with – besessen sein für etwas

most likely – höchst wahrscheinlich

led (lead/led/led) to discovery – führte zur Entdeckung

polonium – Polonium

radium – Radium

extensive research – umfangreiche Forschung

credited with coining – einen Begriff prägen

PhD – Promotion, Doktortitel

horse-drawn cart – Pferdewagen

vow – schwören, etw. geloben

lecture about – dozieren über

treat injuries – Verletzungen behandeln

loaned vehicles – Mietwagen, geliehene Fahrzeuge

alleviate suffering – Leiden lindern

rare disease – seltene Krankheit

exposure to radioactive substances – radioaktiven Substanzen ausgesetzt sein

tireless work – unermüdlicher Einsatz

endeavors – Bemühungen, Bestrebungen

brake barriers (broke – broken) – Barrieren durchbrechen

following her passing – nach ihrem Tod

Excite Your Senses

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