Marie Curie – Early Life

Background: Marie Curie was a Polish-born physicist and chemist and one of the most famous scientists of her time.

Together with her husband Pierre, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1903, and she went on to win another in 1911.

ALBERT EINSTEIN Theoretical Physicist: “Not only did she do outstanding work in her lifetime, and not only did she help humanity greatly by her work, but she invested all her work with the highest moral quality.

All of this she accomplished with great strength, objectivity, and judgment. It is very rare to find all of these qualities in one individual.”

Early life: Marie was born in Warsaw on 7 November 1867, the daughter of a teacher.  From childhood she was remarkable for her prodigious memory, and at the age of 16 she won a gold medal on completion of her secondary education at the Russian lycée. Because her father, a teacher of mathematics and physics, lost his savings through bad investment, she had to take work as a teacher and, at the same time, took part clandestinely in the nationalist “free university,” reading in Polish to women workers. At the age of 18 she took a post as governess, where she suffered an unhappy love affair. From her earnings she was able to finance her sister Bronisława’s medical studies in Paris, with the understanding that Bronisława would in turn later help her to get an education.

Poland was then under Russian control which include education and freedom.

Polish people were systemically watched over by the police to ensure no rebellion and learning of Russian language and culture. “Constantly held in suspicion and spied upon, the children knew that a single conversation in Polish, or an imprudent word, might seriously harm, not only themselves, but also their families. Amidst these hostilities, they lost all the joy of life, and precocious feelings of distrust and indignation weighed upon their childhood. On the other side, this abnormal situation resulted in exciting the patriotic feeling of Polish youths to the highest degree…” quoted from Autobiographical Notes by Marie Curie (Pierre Curie, 2013, DOVER PUBLICATIONS)

In 1891, she went to Paris and worked far into the night in her student-quarters garret and virtually lived on bread and butter and tea.

This was a time of some hardship for the young scientist; winters in her unheated apartment chilled her to the bone.

Top Student Again

In summer 1893, aged 26, Marie finished as top student in her masters physics degree course. She was then awarded industrial funding to investigate how the composition of steel affected its magnetic properties. The idea was to find ways of making stronger magnets.

Her thirst for knowledge also pushed her to continue with her education, and she completed a masters degree in chemistry in 1894, aged 27.

She began to work in Lippmann’s research laboratory and in 1894 was placed second in the licence of mathematical sciences. Later she met Pierre Curie, professor of the School of Physics. They were married in 1895.

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