- Pierre and Marie Curie deserve a place in the scientific heavens. They refused to patent their inventions or receive any money from them. Their interest was in pure science and the good that could come to people from it, pro bono publico.Pierre Curie (1859-1906) was born in Paris. He taught at the Paris School of Physics and Chemistry and then became professor of physics at the Sorborine. In 1895, Pierre married Marie Sklodowska (1867-1934), a twenty-eight-year old student born in Warsaw, Poland, where her father taught physics.Marie had achieved a brilliant record at high school, but could find no outlet for her talents in her native country; the University of Warsaw did not admit women. She began research, nevertheless, on the magnetic properties of different kinds of steel. Marie had financed her sister Bronia's medical studies in Paris, and Bronia, in turn, invited Marie to come to Paris. She did in 1891 and resumed her studies in mathematics, physics, and chemistry at the Sorbonne. There she met many prominent physicists, including the man she was to marry, Pierre Curie. After her marriage, she and Pierre combined their scientific interests. The Curies were responsible for so many discoveries and laws of nature that it would take a large volume to document and explain them. It took the Curies four years of work to extract one gram of radium salt from pitchblende, to prove that radium was a new radioactive substance. Together with Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) in 1903 they received the Nobel Prize in physics for the discovery of radioactivity. In 1898, while working with pitchblende, Marie found a new metal, which she named polonium (atomic number 84) in honor of her native Poland.A few years after their discovery of radium, Pierre was run over by a wagon on the rue Dauphine in Paris. He died instantly. Marie succeeded her husband as physics professor at the Sorbonne, the first woman to hold that distinguished position. She continued her research and in 1911 became the first person to receive the Nobel Prize twice, this time in chemistry for isolating radium. She also was the first woman honored by membership in the French Academy of Medicine. No scientist has received more honors in a lifetime than Marie Curie, and no one has received honors more graciously. She was the most celebrated woman of her time.When, in 1921, Marie made a triumphant visit to the United States, President Warren G. Harding presented her with a gram of radium bought as the result of a collection among American women. Its value at that time was $100,000. Marie used the radium in her research. Again in 1929, during another visit to the United States, the women gave her a similiar gift of the precious metal, the proceeds from which she used to establish a research institute in Warsaw.Ironically, it was Curie's long exposure to radiation that made her ill. A Swiss doctor, examining her blood tests, diagnosed "pernicious anemia in its extreme form." His report of her death read "aplastic pernicious anemia of rapid, feverish development. The bone marrow did not react, probably because it had been injured by a long accumulation of radiations." Daughter Irene Joliet-Curie and her husband, Frederic Joliot (who changed his name by adding Curie) in 1934 discovered a method of producing artificial radioactivity. Another daughter, Eve, became a wellknown writer. Her book Madame Curie, an acclaimed biography of her mother, was published in twenty-five languages.A unit in measuring the activity of a radioactive substance is named curie. A violently radioactive chemical element was named curium (atomic number 96) for Marie and Pierre Cuire by Glenn Seaborg and his colleagues.
Dictionary of eponyms. Morton S. Freeman. 2013.