When classes began at the Sorbonne in Paris in early November , she enrolled as a student of physics. By she was desperately looking for a laboratory where she could work on her research project, the measurement of the magnetic properties of various steel alloys, and it was suggested that she see Pierre Curie at the School of Physics and Chemistry of the University of Paris. Their first meeting was movingly recorded in the future Madame Curie's recollections: "He seemed very young to me although he was then age thirty-five.
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I was struck by the expression of his clear gaze and by a slight appearance of carelessness in his lofty stature. His rather slow, reflective words, his simplicity, and his smile, at once grave and young, inspired confidence. A conversation began between us and became friendly; its object was some questions of science upon which I was happy to ask his opinion.
Although she was insistent from the very start that she would go back to Poland in half a year to assist her subjugated country in whatever way she could, Pierre Curie was most intent to see her more and more often.
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The result was that she returned to Paris in October after spending the summer months in Poland. The next summer witnessed their wedding and the beginning of a most extraordinary partnership in scientific work. By mid Curie could list as her scientific achievements two university degrees, a fellowship, and a monograph on the magnetization of tempered steel. It was Curie's hunch that the radiation was an atomic property and therefore had to be present in some other elements as well.
Her search soon established the fact of a similar radiation from thorium, and the historic word "radioactivity" was coined by her. While searching for other sources of radioactivity, the Curies had before long to turn their attention to pitchblende, a mineral well known for its uranium content. To their immense surprise the radioactivity of pitchblende far exceeded the combined radioactivity of the uranium and thorium contained in it.
From their laboratory two papers reached the Academy of Sciences within 6 months. The first, read at the meeting of July 18, , announced the discovery of a new radioactive element, which the Curies named polonium after Curie's native country. The other paper, announcing the discovery of radium, was read at the December 26 meeting. To substantiate the existence of the new elements and to establish their properties, the Curies had to have sufficiently large quantities.
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Fortunately, the Austrian government was willing to give the Curies a ton of pitchblende, but to process it a laboratory was needed. After long search, the Curies had to settle for a shed occupying part of a courtyard in the School of Physics and Chemistry. From to the Curies processed several tons of pitchblende, but it was not only the extremely precious centigrams of radium that rewarded their superhuman labors. The Curies also published, jointly or separately, during those years a total of 32 scientific papers.
Among them was the one which announced that diseased, tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells when exposed to radium. From abroad came the full measure of recognition which the French Academy of Sciences refused to give in , when Pierre Curie presented himself as candidate for membership. In November the Royal Society in London gave the Curies one of its highest awards, the Davy Medal; and a month later followed the announcement from Stockholm that three French scientists, A.
Becquerel and the Curies, were the joint recipients of the Nobel Prize in physics for Finally even the academics in Paris began to stir and a chair in physics was created at the University of Paris, and a few months later Curie was appointed director of research associated with the new chair.
Its concluding paragraph evoked in prophetic words the double-edged impact on mankind of every major scientific advance. Still Pierre Curie asserted his conviction that "mankind will derive more good than harm from the new discoveries. The illustrious husband-and-wife team, now installed in more appropriate academic positions, had, however, their happy days numbered. The first academic year of Pierre Curie in his new professorship was not over when, on the rainy mid-afternoon of April 19, , he was run down by a heavy carriage and killed instantly.
Two weeks later the widow was asked to take over her late husband's post. Honors began to pour in from scientific societies all over the world on a woman left alone with two small children and with the gigantic task of leadership in radioactivity. In she began to give as titular professor at the Sorbonne the first, and then the only, course on radioactivity in the world.
La Radiologie et la guerre
The next year the Academy of Sciences showed once more its true colors by denying with a one-vote majority the membership to the person who 11 months later became the first to receive twice the Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry. In addition to the Nobel Prize the two finest honors that came to Curie in were her election as permanent member of the Solvay Conferences in physics and the erection in Warsaw of the Institute of Radioactivity, whose directorship was offered to her by a most distinguished group of Polish intellectuals.
The first of these honors reflected on her stature as a scientist. The second honor was more of an emotional satisfaction and represented some temptation for her to turn her back on the unappreciative scientific establishment of her adopted country. But she decided to stay in France, though she did her best to assist the new institute in Warsaw in every possible way.
A most important factor in Curie's decision to stay was the future of the laboratory which Dr. Roux, the director of the Pasteur Institute, proposed to build for her. The plan finally jolted the Sorbonne to join hands with the Pasteur Institute in establishing the famous Radium Institute. Its dedication took place in July , a year after the institute in Warsaw had been dedicated in her presence. Lists with This Book.
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About Marie Curie. Marie Curie.
She was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity, the first and only person honored with Nobel Prizes in two different sciences, and the first female professor at the University of Paris. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. While an actively loyal French citizen, she never lost her sense of Polish identity.
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