In Marie Skłodowska’s time, women and science weren’t supposed to go together. But she didn’t let that stop her. Better know by her married name, Marie Curie would go on to be the first woman in history to win a Nobel Prize. And she won two!
Prohibited her from pursuing an advanced degree in her native Poland, Marie went to Paris to study. But even in her adopted home, she needed a male colleague to win funding and present her research findings. The good news is, she found him. His name was Pierre and the two fell in love. When they married, Marie took his last name: Curie.
On 21 December 1898, exactly 120 years ago, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered a new chemical element. Elements are the building bocks of all matter. Only 118 elements have been identified to date. The element they isolated they called radium for the rays that it emitted, for Radium glows it the dark!
Radium, they would also discover, is both useful as well as highly dangerous to human beings. The rays it emits, called radiation, are now used to treat and cure cancer. But overexposure to radiation can also cause cancer and eventual death. Marie Curie died in 1934 of health complications likely caused by overexposure to Radium.
But before her untimely death at the age of 67, Marie Curie, the female scientist who was once refused an education, would win two Nobel Prizes, and in two different disciplines! The first, awarded in 1903 for Physics, she shared with Pierre and their colleague, Henri Becquerel. Then, in 1911, she won the Nobel Prize, "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."