Marie Curie: A Life of Sacrifice and Achievement

Marie Curie: A Life of Sacrifice and Achievement


Marie Curie
Marie Curie’s discoveries in radiation changed the world. She became one of the most important women
in science and her research is still important to scientists and doctors today.She became
the first person – male or female – to win the Nobel Prize twice. And Marie’s discovery of the element radium
helped unlock the mysteries of the atom. Yet she came from the most unlikely of circumstances. Marie Curie showed that through hard work
and determination anything is possible. In this week’s Biographics, we meet Marie
Curie, scientific pioneer. It was like a new world opened to me, the
world of science Beginnings
Maria Salomee Sklodowska was born on November 7th, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She was the fifth child born to Vladislav
and Bronislawa Sklodowska, who were both teachers. Vladislav taught high school physics and mathematics,
and although Bronislawa gave birth to five children in eight years and had tuberculosis,
she was the full-time director of a private school for girls. It was only after the birth of Maria that
she retired. Through a series of bad investments the family
had lost their savings, requiring them to board at the private school where Bronislawa
had taught. This meant that, for the children, there was
no privacy and they had to keep quiet and be on their best behavior at all times. Bronislawa suffered from Tuberculosis. Terrified of passing the lung disease on to
her children, she refused to hug them or show any physical affection. When Maria, who was known as Manya, was around
five, the family managed to get a place of their own, but they had to take in boarders
to make ends meet. Manya didn’t have her own bedroom but had
to sleep on the sofa in the dining room. She had to get up extra early to set the table
for breakfast. Manya, was fascinated with the instruments
that her father, who was a teacher of physics, kept in his little study – especially the
electroscope. When she started school in 1874, aged six,
she was the youngest and the smallest child there. However, she soon proved herself to be among
the smartest students in her class. She had an excellent memory so she was often
selected to recite poetry for visitors. This was something that the intensely shy
girl detested. Life in Poland was tough during the latter
part of the 19th century. Warsaw was under Russian rule. Laws forbade the speaking of Polish or the
learning of polish history. However, these laws backfired, causing many
Poles, including Manya’s family, to be even more proud of their Polish heritage. Manya dreamed of doing great things and bringing
honor to their country. When Manya was eight, her older sister Zofia,
caught typhus fever and died. About two years later, Manya’s mother died
from tuberculosis. The little girl was inconsolable – the two
dearest people in her life – her sister and her mother – had been cruelly snatched away
from her. Despite her despair, Manya was able to maintain
top grades at school. With the love and support of her father and
remaining siblings, she began to dream about an accomplished future. In 1883 she completed her high school education. She was first in her class in every subject. Shortly thereafter, however, she became ill
with what she called ‘ fatigue of growth and study.’ She spent a year recovering with relatives
in the country. Out in the World
On her return, Marya was intent on furthering her education in the sciences. But the Russian government forbade any Polish
women from attending the University of Warsaw. Maria made a pact with her older sister Bronya. They would pool their finances so that first,
Bronya, and then Marya, could attend the University of Paris. Marya spent the next six years as a governess,
which meant that she was little more than a servant to a wealthy family. For three and a half of those years, she lived
with the Zorawski family, sixty miles from Warsaw. She tutored two of the Zorawski children seven
hours a day and was at the family’s beck and call the remainder of the time. With the father’s approval, she also taught
local peasant children to read and write, an illegal activity for which she could have
been severely punished. She used every moment of her precious free
time for study. During this time, Marya also began attending
secret meetings of the ‘Floating University’. Members read about scientific and other works
that were banned by the Russians because they thought that they might stir up rebellious
ideas. After a year of living with the Zorawski family,
Maria met their oldest son, who was home from University. He and Marya, now aged 19, quickly fell in
love. However, the Zorawski’s refused to let their
son marry a poor governess. The unhappy couple separated, but Marya kept
working for the family because Bronya was depending on her to help pay her way. To get over heartbreak, Marya threw herself
into her studies. She focused on physics and chemistry. In 1889, her employment with the Zorawski’s
ended and she moved back to Warsaw where she began working for another family. One of her cousin’s ran Warsaw’s Museum
of Industry and Agriculture, which was a lab where Polish students, including Marya, could
study science. The Sorbonne
By 1891, Marya had managed to save enough money for her to join Bronya in Paris. It was here that she changed to mMarie, the
French version of her name. Living with Bronya and her new husband, Marie
attended the Sorbonne University. Before long she tired of the commute and moved
in to the student area, living in a tiny attic with no proper lighting and only a coal stove. She had very little money, ate poorly, had
to pay for her lessons, and worked long hours in the University library. Yet she found her work so satisfying that
the hardships were worth it. Marie had to work much harder than her classmates
due to her limited understanding of the French language. Still, she graduated in 1893, having earned
a master’s degree in physics. She also got the top marks in her class. In addition, she won a scholarship, which
allowed her to begin studying for a second degree, this time in mathematics. Pierre
While studying for her mathematics degree, Marie got a job studying the magnetism of
various types of steel for a French company. To do the work, however, she needed to find
a lab. A friend introduced her to a man who could
help her to do so. His name was Pierre Curie, a teacher and head
of the lab at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in Paris. He was already famous for his work with crystals
and magnets. Marie began doing her investigations on the
different types of steel as Pierre continued researching the effect of electricity on crystals. No one was more surprised than Curie himself,
when he became attracted to Marie. This man of science considered most women
to be a waste of space. Yet Marie was different. She was brilliant and she had a deep love
for science. Instead of wooing her with flowers, Pierre
attempted to steal Marie’s heart by giving her an autographed copy of one of his physics
papers. Pierre asked Marie to marry him shortly after
they met. Marie wanted to say yes, but felt that if
she did marry Pierre, she would never again live in her beloved Poland. After completing her mathematics degree, she
returned to Warsaw for a holiday, unsure if she would ever go back to Paris. However, she was bombarded with love letters
by Pierre. She finally decided to return in order to
continue her education and to see Pierre. Marie and Pierre were married on July 26th,
1895. The ever practical Marie wore a dark blue
suit that she could later wear in the lab. For the next year, she worked in Pierre’s
lab studying steel and magnetism. In August, 1896 she gave birth to Irene, their
first child. Becoming a mother, though, didn’t slow her
down. She decided to earn a doctorate in physics
and needed a new topic to study. She had heard about a French physicist named
Henri Becquerel and his discovery of mysterious uranium rays in 1896. The subject fascinated her and she decided
to make it the focus of her doctorate. Interest in X-Rays
In November, 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen, a German physicist, discovered invisible penetrating
rays coming from an electric tube in one of his experiments. He called them x-rays, because he did not
know what they were. They had the ability to pass through flesh
and other substances, but not through hard, dense materials like bone and thick metals. X-rays and their effects became world famous
within months. In 1896, the french physicist Henri Becquerel
discovered more kinds of penetrating rays. Unlike Roentgen’s, which were made by an electrical
effect, these rays seemed to come naturally from a piece of uranium. Becquerel had left the uranium lying on a
sealed packet of photographic paper for several days in a drawer, and it caused the paper
to mist over. The uranium seemed to produce some kind of
invisible rays that could pass through the thick black paper. Most scientists ignored Becquerel’s uranium
rays. But not Marie Curie. She threw herself into the study, first systematically
searching for uranium-type rays coming from other elements. Checking through all 70 elements she found
that thorium also gave off rays. Next, Marie analyzed rocks that contained
more than one element. As she expected, most of the uranium-type
rays were given off by the rocks called pitchblende. This was because they contained uranium or
thorium. But to her surprise, pitchblende gave off
more radiation than she expected. What was causing the extra radiation? The Great Discovery
After checking her results more than twenty times, Maria announced, in July, 1898, that
she had found a new element. She named it Polonium after her beloved Poland. At the same time she invented the word ‘radioactive’
to describe polonium, uranium and thorium. Then, in December 1898, Marie announced the
discovery of another new, even more radioactive, element – radium. But years of work lay ahead. Marie and Pierre had to prove to fellow scientists
that polonium and radium existed. To do this, they had to produce the two elements
in their purest forms, find the weight of the atoms, and show that each element has
an atomic weight different from any other element’s. But their first focus was to produce pure
radium. To do this they needed two things – lots of
pitchblende and a large lab. The pitchblende came from a mine in Austria
and the Curie’s were able to buy it up very cheaply. Finding lab space was harder. The only room available was a cold, leaky
shed near Pierre’s work, but it gave them the sauce they needed. Marie had to melt pitchblende in huge pots
and stir it with a steel rod almost as tall as he was. Despite her hard work, she was determined
to discover all she could about radioactivity. Between 1900 and 1903, Marie published many
papers on her work. During this period she was also completing
her doctoral degree and trying to produce pure radium. As if that wasn’t enough, in October, 1900,
she began teaching at a teacher’s college in Sevres, a Parisian suburb. And, of course, she was raising her daughter
Irene. On July 21st, 1902, Marie finally reported
the weight of one radium atom – this was a major breakthrough. Because the weight of the radium atom was
different from the atomic weight of any other element, it proved that Marie had discovered
a new element. Marie and Pierre could have become rich by
claiming all rights to working with radium. Instead, they shared their information, telling
how they’d purified the element, and more. They believed scientific research should benefit
everyone. Accolades
In June, 1903, Marie became the first woman in Europe to receive a doctorate in science. But, as the fame of the uber science couple
grew, their physical health began to deteriorate. Pierre was constantly tired and in pain. Marie was also in a constant state of exhaustion. She had recently had a miscarriage and had
lost a lot of weight. They both suffered from burnt, numb fingertips. We now know that they were suffering from
the effects of radiation exposure. At the time, radium was being touted for its
health benefits. Because it could kill healthy tissue, doctors
tested it on diseased cells and found it also destroyed them. Soom radium was being used to stop cancer
cells from growing in patients with cancer. The new treatment was called ‘Curietherapy.’ In November , 1903 Marie and Pierre were given
the Humphry Davy Medal, England’s highest award in chemistry. But the greatest accolade came a month later,
when they, along with Henri Becquerel, won the Nobel Prize for Physics. The Nobel Prize came with a substantial cash
price. This allowed the Curie’s, for the first
time, to hire a lab assistant. Now reporters and visitors wanted to meet
the famous scientific couple. Some eager reporters even attempted to interview
the Curie’s young daughter, Irene. Nobel Prize winners had to travel to Sweden
to receive their award and speak about their work. But Marie was too ill to go.It wasn’t until
1905 that she was able to make the trip. The couple’s feelings about the prize were
mixed. Marie was proud of her work and her accomplishment
of being the first woman to achieve world fame as a scientist. The prize money also helped to fund their
research, which they had so far been paying out of their own pocket. But they disliked the fame, which interfered
with their work. In 1904, Marie gave birth to a second daughter,
Eve. Shortly thereafter Pierre was made a professor
at the Sorbonne. He was given a better laboratory and Marie
was paid as his chief assistant. The next year he was elected to the Academy
of Sciences. Tragedy
For two years, things went well for the Curies. They were finally comfortable financially
and were respected leaders in their field. Then in April,1906 tragedy struck. They had just enjoyed a relaxed weekend in
the country and we’re back in a rainy Paris. A rushed off his feet Pierre was running errands
in the rain when he stepped out to cross the road and fell in front of a horse drawn wagon. The startled horse reared up. It’s hooves missed Pierre but the rear wheels
crushed his skull. He was killed instantly. When word spread that a famous scientist had
been killed, the crowd had to be stopped from attacking the innocent driver. Marie didn’t hear about the tragedy until
she returned home that night. She was devastated by her husband’s death. However, she remembered what he had once told
her . . . Whatever happens, even if one should become
like a body without a soul, still one must work. So, when she was offered her husband’s job
at the Sorbonne, she accepted. Before her first class, reporters, students
and curious people crowded the hall to see the first female teacher at the institute. They wondered if she would praise her husband
– or break down under the strain. Instead, she began quietly speaking – picking
up at the very spot where Pierre had left off during his last lecture. One of Marie’s deepest regrets was that Pierre
had died without ever having his own permanent lab. It gave her great satisfaction when, in 1909,
plans were begun to establish the Radium Institute in Paris. It would have a laboratory that Marie would
supervise, to be called the Curie Pavilion. Pure Radium
Working as hard as ever, Marie noted that Lord Kelvin, a Scottish physicist, had suggested
that radium was not an element, since it had been found to give off helium gas, which is
itself an element. She continued to make even purer polonium
and radium. By 1910 she had produced pure radium, and
showed that it was a brilliant-white metal. She even found its melting , 700 degrees celsius. In 1910, Marie also published her 971-page
work Treatise on Radioactivity. In 1911 came another great honor – the Nobel
Prize for Chemistry, awarded to her alone, for making pure radium. In 1911, Radiology Congress, an international
group of radiation scientists, decided they needed a new unit of measurement for radiation
– they called it the ‘Curie’. Marie insisted that she was the only one who
could take on the task of working out the exact size of a curie unit. It was painstaking work, but she did it in
Pierre’s honor. In 1911, Marie failed to be elected to the
French Academy of Sciences. Many people said that it was simply because
she was a woman – her scientific work was of the highest quality. Her personal life was followed by the newspapers,and
there was great interest in her friendship with physicist colleague Paul Langevin, who
had left his wife. Extremely upset, Marie fell ill. After treatment she stayed with her friend
Hertha Ayrton in England. By 1914, the Radium Institute at the University
of Paris was finished. The same year, World War One began. Marie threw herself into the war effort. She organized x-ray equipment for hospitals
to help them locate bullets and shrapnel in the wounds of injured soldiers. She also set up a course to train people in
the use of radiography units. At war’s end in 1918, Marie became Director
of the Paris Radium Institute. The Institute became a world center for radiation
physics and chemistry. In 1920, Marie became friends with Marie Maloney,
an American journalist. Maloney helped to improve Curie’s public
image, and planned to raise money for the Radium Institute by a lecture tour of the
USA. Although her hearing and sight were failing,
she carried out part of the tour before illness forced her to return to France. Many universities awarded her special degrees,
and the Women of America gave her one gram of radium, worth a hundred thousand dollars,
in recognition of her work and achievements as a woman scientist. In 1922, she was at last elected to the French
Academy of Medicine. The Decline
In the early 1920’s scientists finally realized the dangers of radiation. People working with radioactive material began
taking precautions. But it was too late for Marie. Her work with radiation probably caused the
cataracts in her eyes that now threatened her with blindness. She had four operations to remove the cataracts
but wanted no one to know – she didn’t want people thinking she was old and helpless. Marie continued to oversee the work in her
own labs in Paris. She also travelled to raise funds for research
by younger scientists. In 1928, she had a final operation for cataracts. She was cared for by her daughter Eve. After further illness, she died on July 4th,
1934, at Sancellemoz, Switzerland, as a result of aplastic anemia, a lack of red blood cells,
caused by long exposure to radiation. Marie’s legacy lived on in her daughter
Irene. In 1935, her and her husband, Frederic, received
the Nobel Prize for chemistry. In 1995, Marie and Pierre were reburied in
the Pantheon in Paris. She is the first woman given that honor based
on her own achievements.

79 thoughts on “Marie Curie: A Life of Sacrifice and Achievement

  1. First, hit the subscribe button. That will allow you to click on the bell. This enables a switch activated by pressing on the eyelid of a statue in the garden which will open a door allowing entry to the secret control room where you can flick a switch that will enable you to get announcements of all future videos from this channel.

  2. I don't like the negative assumption Simon makes in this video that Marie's mother should no longer be a headmistress because she had five children, he makes a simlar judgement about Marie after the birth of her own child

  3. She is a person that bring up as a role model to my students. Interestingly enough, female students pick up the information way more passionately.
    😀

  4. It’s women like her that should the inspiration and source of pride for young women today….not Nicki Minaj, 🙄

  5. Thank You Simon for all your hard work on these high quality videos. I extra appreciate you making so many great videos about empowering historical women! They are sadly left out of the story of our pasts often. Keep up the great work!

  6. I have adored this woman since the first bio I read. If you look in dictionary pretty sure u see her face NXT to dedication.

  7. I just realized I have been binge watching his videos but still haven't subscribed. Btw, great video. Marie Curie really is an amazing woman!

  8. Could you please do a serie on dutch historic people like michiel de Ruiter, the brothers de Wit, the royal family and the beelden storm I would love to watch that

  9. Madame Curie excelente y magna mujer y científica , gracias por darnos y ayudarnos junto a su esposo monsieur Curie , tanto , Gracias!!

  10. Very interesting indeed i find that most documentaries about people like her and many others are so boring but when you do it, it seems so much more interesting for some odd reason😏

  11. Really….The story about the GREAT legend 'Marie Curie' achievements in her life and the life sacrifice she has done which we can cherish them. I am glad that my daughter has got a chance in her school to a write a Biography of Marie Curie and the big day is tomorrow she is going to present before all the parents. In that way I got Introduced to this great LADY !!!! LOVE from USA.

  12. Strange that there's no mention of her affair with her handsome lab assistant after Pierre's death. His vindictive wife made their love letters public, and the press were consumed with the scandal, which she survived, of course, with her reputation quickly regained.

  13. wow what a great lady my mind blown away … !! a massive thanks to Simon… one of my fav youtuber… after visial poliks .. work on biography is just amazing

  14. All the people worked in her lab and with radam died how you can magnify religious acts of terror but gloss over every science insisted disaster !!! Every radiologist that died using the stuff she made and said was safe is on her hands your philosophy is inconsistent

  15. It's worth to mention that her demise was caused most likely by x-rays during war not by her work in laboratory.

  16. This is one that I did know about before. I did a report on her back in Jr High. such a fascinating woman.

  17. One of my favorite women of history: Marie Curie. I’m so glad you guys made a video of her and gave her the honor that she needed. I remember dressing up as her costume parties and people wonder why. Now I know that I can just direct them to this video. Thanks once again

  18. We'll have made true progress when we stop even noticing a person's accomplishments by whether they're a man or a woman.

  19. Love and really enjoy biographies of science legends. Pasteur and Madame Curie are two of my favorites thus far. Please do more of the same.

  20. Great work Simon. Love you informative channel. Please can you do more women. I think iv watched them all. Many thanks

  21. I once remembered that Marie and Einstein knew each other and get along quite well. I guess it takes one physician to understand another one, Now I am imagining if Newton live in their time.

  22. I love your documentaries. Thank you. 🙂 …. One thing …. 🙂 ….. You do talk awfulllly fast. …sometimes hard to mentally keep up with.

  23. They didn't live in Paris but in Ivry-sur-Seine, where I'm writing from. Close to Paris but not Paris. There is even a metro station named after them two streets from my home.

  24. I used to work at a comic book shop, and we used to show promotional material. One was a trailer for a comic about a group of assassins called "The Family Trade".

    Why do I bring this up? Well, the song you used was also in the trailer for the comic. Now, I won't be able to think of Marie Curie without thinking of a comic book with a lot potential that was wasted on a lackluster character and story.

    Thanks for that!

    Joking aside: Great video

  25. Tabuculosis was cut out of myfathers arm. It is not a lung infection. The surgeon had. Him return after six weeks and said he might return to work. Astonished, my father had taken no time off.

  26. I studied Medicine and I want to pursue a career in research because of her, she is such a great inspiration in all aspects of her life

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