Women in Science 2: Marie Curie

There is no scientist in the world, no matter how early on they are in their career, that hasn't heard of Marie Curie. In fact "Madame Curie" is well known even outside of the scientific community, and is an icon in popular culture. To continue our series honoring the contribution of women to science, there is probably no better example than Marie Curie. The body of literature existing over the work and life of Marie Curie is immense. We are not going to comprehensively list her professional and personal achievements. We just want to talk about her because...well, she was just amazing.

She was born on November 7th, 1867, in Warsaw, back when the Russians dominated that portion of Poland. Named Maria Salomea Skłodowska, she was the youngest of five siblings.
Before going to Paris to pursue higher education, she spent most of her teenage years educating herself, and attending an underground educational organization that allowed women to study. For a while, she had to take various tutoring jobs in order to save money to pay for her higher education.

Curie's birthplace in Warsaw is now home to the Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum.

University of Paris (Sorbona), where Curie obtained her first degree in Physics, in 1893.
Marie Curie will always be remembered by her contributions to the field of radioactivity, a term that she coined herself in one of her publications. But she was a pioneer on many things during her lifetime. She was A first, as in THE first woman, in many things. For example, she was the first woman to become a full professor at the University of Paris, the place were she conducted most of her research. She was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. Furthermore, she was the first, and thus far the only woman, to be awarded two Nobel Prizes, one in Physics and the other one in Chemistry.

The trefoil symbol is used to indicate radioactive material.

Marie Curie driving a
Mobile Military Hospital X-Ray-Unit.
 
In addition, thanks to her work in radioactivity, a new field in medical treatment started to develop as well. In fact, during World War I, she herself organized a fleet of mobile radiography units to help surgeons on the front line. With the help of a military doctor and her daughter, Irene (whom by the way also received a Nobel Prize years later), she led the group and became the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service.

Exposure to radioactivity is unlikely
to turn you into a superhero...
 
Unfortunately, Curie's biggest error was not foreseeing the potential danger of radioactivity. For decades, she exposed herself to radioactive material without proper protection. This is now believed to be the direct cause of her death, which occurred on July 4th 1934, from aplastic anemia. Despite her failing health, she refused to believe that radiation could actually be dangerous if not controlled. In fact, due to high levels of radioactivity, her original papers are too dangerous to handle without protection and even her cookbook is highly radioactive.
After breaking so many barriers in her time, Marie Curie's life and discoveries are widely celebrated at present, and she has been a constant inspiration not just to young scientists, but people in general.

However, for those young scientists that are starting their careers, the Marie Curie Fellowship Program offers a superb opportunity to compete for funding. There are several categories that you can explore here.

We will continue this series to celebrate the contribution of women in science. If you have a suggestion, just let us know. We would love to hear them: mtam@biolegend.com.

Contributed by Miguel Tam, PhD.
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