Symbols of Warsaw: Madame Curie – famous resident of Warsaw

Madame Curie was born in Warsaw as Maria Skłodowska on November 7, 1867 at 16 Freta Street in Warsaw New Town. She was the youngest of 5 children. Both of her parents were teachers and instilled in their children a sense of the value of learning. Maria’s early years were marked by the death of her sister Zofia (typhus) and, 2 years later, the death of her mother (tuberculosis). These events caused her to give up her Roman Catholic religion and become an agnostic. From childhood Skłodowska showed an exceptional memory and work ethic, and was known to neglect food and sleep in order to study. At age of 16 she graduated from a Russian liceum at the top of her class, winning a gold medal on completion of her secondary education there.

She was a physicist and chemist of Polish upbringing and, subsequently, French citizenship. She was a pioneer in the field of radioactivity, the first and only person honored with Nobel Prizes in 2 different sciences (1903 – Physics, 1911 – Chemistry), the first woman in history to be awarded a Nobel Prize, and the first female professor at the University of Paris. Nevertheless, the French Academy of Sciences refused to abandon its prejudice against women, and she failed by one vote to be elected to membership.

She was born in Warsaw, and lived there until she was 24. In 1891 she followed her elder sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she obtained her higher degrees and conducted her scientific work (she became the first woman in France to complete a doctorate). She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw. She was the wife of fellow-Nobel-laureate Pierre Curie and the mother of a third Nobel laureate, Irène Joliot-Curie. As a French citizen, she never lost her sense of Polish identity. Madame Curie named the first new chemical element that she discovered (1898) “polonium” for her native Poland, then still partitioned among Russia, Prussia and Austria. It was Marie’s hope that naming the element after her native country would bring world attention to its lack of independence. Polonium may have been the first chemical element named to highlight a political question.

Remembering about Poland and home town – Warsaw, in 1932 she founded a Radium Institute (now the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology) in her home town, Warsaw, headed by her physician-sister Bronisława.

Her death in 1934 was from aplastic anemia, almost certainly due to exposure to radiation, as the damaging effects of ionising radiation were not yet known, and much of her work had been carried out in a shed with no safety measures. She was interred at the cemetery in Sceaux, where Pierre lay, but 60 years later, in 1995, in honour of their work, the remains of both were transferred to the Pantheon in Paris. Marie Curie was the first and only woman laid to rest under the famous dome of the Pantheon, on her own merits. Her laboratory is preserved in the Musée Curie.

The curie (symbol Ci), a unit of radioactivity, is named in her and Pierre’s honour, as is the element with atomic number 96 – curium. 3 radioactive minerals are named after the Curies: curite, sklodowskite, and cuprosklodowskite. In 2007, the Pierre Curie Paris Métro station was renamed the “Pierre et Marie Curie” station.

Jokes about M. Curie:

left: Thak you Mrs Curie, the cake was delisious. – It’s all chemical ….

right: Men can also create science… 🙂

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