When Obsession Becomes Deadly: The Life of Marie Curie
Marie Curie, a pioneer in her field and Nobel Prize winning Chemist, took a path that few women of her time dared and unfortunately, her passion for Science would be her ultimate demise. From birth to death Marie Curie lived a full life, with love, work, and passion at the center.
Maria Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland, on 7 November 1867, the fifth and youngest child of well-known teachers Bronisława and Władysław Skłodowski. Maria's father was an atheist and her mother a devout Catholic. Two years earlier, Maria's oldest sibling, Zofia, had died of typhus. The deaths of her mother and sister, according to Robert William Reid, ...view middle of the document...
In 1893 she was awarded a degree in physics and began work in an industrial laboratory at Lippman's. Meanwhile, she continued studying at the Sorbonne, and in 1894, earned a degree in mathematics. In the same, year Pierre Curie entered her life as an instructor in the School of Physics and Chemistry. A year later Marie and Pierre were married (Georgie 1).
Marie decided to look into uranium rays as a possible field of research for a thesis. She used a clever technique to investigate samples (Wikipedia 1). Fifteen years earlier, her husband and his brother had invented the electrometer, a sensitive device for measuring electrical charge. Using the Curie electrometer, she discovered that uranium rays caused the air around a sample to conduct electricity (Yannuzzi 46). Using this technique, her first result was the finding that the activity of the uranium compounds depended only on the quantity of uranium present.
Marie had shown that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction of molecules, but must come from the atom itself. In scientific terms, this was the most important single piece of work that she conducted (Georgie 1). Her electrometer showed that pitchblende was four times as active as uranium itself, and torbernite twice as active. She concluded that, if
her earlier results relating the quantity of uranium to its activity were correct, and then these two minerals must contain small quantities of some other substance that was far more active than uranium itself (Nobel 1).
At that time, however, no one else in the world of physics had noticed what Skłodowska–Curie recorded in a sentence of her paper, describing how much greater were the activities of pitchblende and chalcolite compared to uranium itself: "The fact is very remarkable, and leads to the belief that these minerals may contain an element which is much more active than uranium." She later would recall how she felt "a passionate desire to verify this hypothesis as rapidly as possible."(Wikipedia 1).
Pierre Curie was sure that what she had discovered was not a spurious effect. He was so intrigued that he decided to drop his work on crystals temporarily and to join her. On 14 April 1898, they optimistically weighed out a 100-gram sample of pitchblende and ground it with a pestle and mortar (Nobel 1). They did not realize at the time that what they were searching for was present in such minute quantities that they eventually would have to process tones of the ore (Georgie 1). Since they were unaware of the deleterious effects of radiation exposure, attendant on their chronic unprotected work with radioactive substances, Marie and her husband had no idea what price they would pay for the effect of their research upon their health (Wikipedia 1).
July 1898, Marie and her husband published a paper together, announcing the existence of an element which they named "polonium", in honor of her native Poland, which would for another twenty years remain partitioned among...