Useful Notes / Marie Curie

Marie Curie, born Maria Sklodowska, was a Polish and naturalized French physicist and chemist. She was the first of many things: the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win twice, the first - and only - person to win in two sciences, the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Born in 1867, she was a pioneer in research on radioactivity.

In 1903, she shared the Nobel Prize for physics with her husband, Pierre Curie, and physicist Henri Becquerel for their work on radiation. She received her second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. These weren't her only notable accomplishments - she also established the first field radiological centres during World War I.

Curie died in 1934 at the age of 66, having developed aplastic anemia due to her exposure to large amounts of radiation because of her work. To this day, her papers are too dangerous to handle. Anyone wanting to consult them must wear protective clothing.

In fiction

Tropes Associated With Curie:

  • Feminine Women Can Cook: Played straight ironically enough. She quite enjoyed cooking, and was rather proud of some of her recipes, even when an active researcher. For example, this.
    • Her rather nonchalant handling of radium meant that many of her personal papers, including her cookbooks are still radioactive. See here.
    • Having devoted her entire life to scholarship, young Marie didn't even know how to make soup, but got into cooking when she married, sneaking lessons from her sister and in-laws. She went about it with the same methodicalness and attention to detail as her scientific experiments, inventing dishes that needed little or no preparation, and crockpot-types that could cook themselves for the hours she was in school.
  • Humble Hero: She turned down several awards, and insisted that monetary gifts be given to the institutes she was associated with rather than her.
  • The Knights Who Say "Squee!": Albert Einstein named her as one of the scientists whom he admired most.
  • La Résistance: Starting when she was a kid going to Jadwiga Sikorska's subversive academy, where the girls learned Polish history and other subjects forbidden during the Russian occupation. Everything was in code so when the schedule said "Home Ec" that was really "Polish History", etc. They had to learn enough Russian language, facts and history to fool the authorities into thinking the academy submitted to Russian rule, when actually it was just the opposite.note  There were a lot of underground study cells, including The Floating University that Marie attended and taught at later. Marie worked for Polish independence her whole life, and asked that the first element she discovered should be called Polonium.
  • Starving Student: When she came to Paris to study at the Sorbonne. Tuition and labs were all free, but she was on an excruciatingly tight budget. Her sister and brother-in-law were both physicians in town, but their place was too far from the school and they liked to have lots of distracting guests and parties in their off hours. She lived in a succession of cheap places — actual garrets much of the time — within walking distance of the school so she wouldn't need to pay bus fare. The story of her fainting at school was real (between classes though, not during class as in the movie).
  • Workaholic: Nearly her entire life. She'd lost her mother and older sister within two years of each other, and was prey to depression and melancholy the rest of her life (anything you read about her having "nervous collapse" is about this). Study and research were her therapy. She wrote a book during the last year of her life while she was dying of radiation poisoning. She also served as a member of the Commission on Isotopic Abundances and Atomic Weights from 1930 until her death.