Marie Curie: A Twentieth-Century Woman

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Marya Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867, in Poland. Marya's father wanted his five children to become well educated. Unfortunately, the family was poor. In fact, Marya worked for six years to support her older sister Bronya so Bronya could study medicine at the Sorbonne in Paris. When Bronya finished medical school in 1891, 23-year-old Marya Sklodowska went to Paris to begin her own education.

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Once she arrived in Paris, Marya changed her name to the French form, Marie. After living with Bronya and her husband for a short time, she moved to an inexpensive apartment near the university so she could study without interruption. Marie's student life was extremely poor, but in spite of her difficult living conditions, she was happy.

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In July 1893, Marie passed her physics examination, first in her class. At this time, she met Pierre Curie, a young scientist. Marie and Pierre discovered that they had much in common. They both believed that science was the most important part of their lives. They didn't care about money or about being comfortable. They fell in love, and were married on July 26, 1895. Marie and Pierre Curie were very happy. They discussed their work and the latest scientific events, such as the discovery of X rays. Marie was interested in this research, and began to look for unknown elements that had such rays. Pierre Curie stopped his own research in order to help Marie in her work. He realized that she was about to make an important discovery.

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In 1898, the Curies found two new elements that gave off radiation. They named these elements polonium and radium. In those days, no one knew that such radioactive materials were dangerous. In fact, Marie Curie created the word radioactive to describe these materials. They did not know that exposure to this radioactivity caused their constant fatigue and illnesses, and they kept working. Finally, in 1902, they proved the existence of radium.

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On June 15, 1903, Marie became the first woman to receive a doctor of science degree from the Sorbonne. Then she received an even greater award. In 1903, the Academy of Science at Stockholm, Sweden awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics to Marie and Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their discoveries in radioactivity.

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The Curies continued to work closely together until a tragic event occurred. On a rainy day in April, 1906, Pierre was killed in a street accident. Marie was heartbroken, but she continued working. Then, in 1910, she isolated radium. It was the biggest accomplishment of Marie Curie's career. In 1911, she received the Nobel Prize again, in Chemistry. She was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize and the first person to receive it a second time.

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Over the years, Marie's constant exposure to radiation continued to destroy her health. She died on July 4, 1934, from an illness caused by her life's work: radium. Marie Curie never cared about making any money from her discoveries. Her life had been one of hard work, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. However, in her personal life, she was happily married and had two daughters. Professionally, she made important discoveries and achieve greatness in her field.