The Tragically Forgotten Triumphs Of Marie Curie

Triumphs, at times, are tragically neglected in history due to sexism. Marie Curie took one of the greatest medical tools to the battlefront of World War I, along with amazing scientific discoveries only to be overshadowed because of twentieth-century sexism. This history needs to be acknowledged to celebrate the triumphs of Marie Curie that were curtailed by several organizations, as well as the general public. Marie Curie is a great hero in history, and she must be remembered.

Marie Salomea Sklodowska Curie was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw, Poland; in a place and time of discrimination throughout Western Civilization. Both her mother and her father were school teachers, which lead her to read, write, and be very intelligent at a young age. After graduating top of her class when she was 15, Marie strongly wished to attend a university. However, University of Warsaw would not accept women, and many other universities in Poland would do the same. This is because this time period was very racist and sexist, so many people all over the world were deprived of adequate education due to their race and/or gender.

Marie Curie eventually saved enough money to attend Sorbonne in Paris, France. This is where she earned and received a master’s degree in physics in July of 1893. Women’s education advocates gave Marie a scholarship to continue school and earn a degree in mathematics, which she finished in 1894.

After college, one of Curie’s professors arranged for her to study in a lab, where she met Pierre Curie. Pierre was a bright and brilliant young man, and the two scientists later fell in love. They eventually were married in 1895.

In 1897, in Paris, France, Marie gave birth to her first beautiful daughter, Irene Joliot Curie. Irene Curie would become a brilliant scientist alongside her mother, and would later receive a Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

During the 1895-1898 era, Marie became very interested in X-rays and began to research and test many topics relating to the emission of Becquerel rays from uranium. She soon created the term “radioactive” to represent this. Pierre also was intrigued by her studies, leading him to join her in her work. As partners, the discovered polonium in 1898 (Scholastic: Marie Curie). The element was cleverly named after Marie Curie’s home country, Poland. Later, they revealed another new element. This was called radium. This element was named after the Latin word “radius”, which means “rays”. These elements, especially radium, were huge in the chemistry field, and still are today.

Polonium, for example, is used as a heat source, as well as a means of removing static from clothing or textiles, and removing dust from photographic film. It can also be used to power space satellites. Radium, on the other hand, can be used to produce radon, which is a gas that is used to treat some types of cancer. These are only a few of many uses for these elements, and they were both discovered by Marie Curie. Most people have heard of at least one of these elements. However, many people today have never heard of Curie. It is an absolute tragedy that someone who was this groundbreaking and triumphant has been forgotten in history.

Furthermore, in 1903, she became the first female in Europe to successfully earn a doctorate in physics (Bagley 2013). That November, Marie and Pierre Curie received the Nobel Prize in Physics for their enormous breakthroughs. The nominating committee initially refrained from awarding Marie because she was a woman, but Pierre persistently tried to convince them she deserved the recognition, and the eventually gave in. Marie Curie then became the first woman to earn a Nobel Prize.

Marie Curie became a mother for the second time in 1904. Eve Curie was the youngest of the family and was only two years old when a tragedy struck.

In 1906, Pierre Curie past away. He tripped while crossing a street, and was unfortunately hit by a horse-drawn carriage (Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity). This loss did not stop Marie Curie, though. In 1911 Curie won a second Nobel Prize for her study in radioactivity, this time on her own. This made her, to this day, the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in different sciences. She also worked with and studied X-rays and radiation during this time, continuing her successful career and working through her loss.

One of the most unacknowledged triumph of Marie Curie, though, was that she was actually a war hero. When World War I began to effect Paris, France, Marie Curie shipped all of her valuable radium to a safety deposit box in another city for safe keeping. Then, she decided that the best course of action would be to join the battle. At this time, women her age would never participate in combat. However, Curie was determined to do her part, so she chose to use her radiation expertise to provide medical assistance soldiers in the war. To do this, she invented “Little Curies”. Little Curies were cars, outfitted with X-ray technology. Marie even trained other women to operate the vehicles, so she could have more in use at a given time. When the Little Curies were needed, Marie or her trainees would drive them to the battlefront. This is where doctors would use them to detect broken bones or foreign objects in an injured soldier, so they could treat them appropriately (How Marie Curie Brought X-Ray machines to the Battlefield). Marie Curie saved many lives with her genius knowledge of this field, and she is extremely under recognized for her triumphant discoveries and breakthroughs, as well as being a great World War I hero.

Later in life, 1922-1932, Marie Curie continued her flourishing career in many ways. The first was in 1922 when she joined the French Academy of Medicine to commit her time to the medical world. To further pursue triumph, Curie visited America in 1929, where she was shown great respect. She even received a gram of radium as a gift. Finally, in 1932, Marie Curie joined the effort against cancer by partnering with her sister. Together, they opened Marie Sklodowska Curie Oncology Center, a cancer research facility. These are just a few ways Marie Curie was triumphant even in her later years.

After a triumphant and eventful life, Marie Curie unfortunately past away on July 4, 1934. Her death was due to aplastic anemia, caused by her extreme exposure to radiation throughout her career. However, this was not the end of her fascinating story.

After being buried in Sceaux Cemetery, her remains were moved to the Pantheon, where other famous French figures were buried. Marie’s body was unusual, though. Because she had been dangerously exposed to radiation throughout her life, her remains and belongings were highly radioactive. Furthermore, her remains will continue to be extremely radioactive for at least 1,500 years. Curie did not realize her research was harmful, so she thoroughly contaminated her entire house with toxic radiation. Due to this, her body and personal items are kept safely in led boxes, stored in various libraries and museums. Most of her belongings, though, are held at The National Library of France. Despite the contamination, members of the public are still able to view her items, including her journal, which contains her written accounts of her triumphant discoveries. To do this, these visitors must sign liability waivers, as well as wear, any types of strong protective equipment. Marie’s story did not end when she passed away because her triumphant legacy still lives on in many ways.

Marie Curie’s life was certainly successful and triumphant. Between two Nobel Prizes, two new elements, cancer research, “Little Curies”, and the term “radioactivity”, Madam Curie should be famous and mentioned often throughout history and even today. However, she is and has been, extremely under-recognized for her pioneering work in chemistry.       

16 December 2021
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