Marie Curie

By: Maggie

“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood.” Marie Curie was a famous scientist who lived from Nov. 7, 1867- July 4, 1934. In her lifetime, she discovered radioactivity, radium, polonium, and how to use these things in the medical field as well as in physics or chemistry. Marie Curie was one of the fist women in Europe to receive a doctorate degree, and after this, went on to receive two Nobel prizes. Marie Curie opened the world’s eyes to radioactive elements.

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowski on Nomember 7th, 1867, to Vadislav and Bronisawa Sklodowski. She had four siblings, Hela, Zosia, Bronya, and Joseph, who all called her Manya. She lived in Warsaw, Poland with her family. Manya loved to learn, from her father or from her school. When Manya wanted to go to college, she couldn’t. There were two problems; she didn’t have any money, and the Russians wouldn’t let women go to college. Because of this, Manya could not go to a legal school, but had to go to a “floating university”. The group met in attics and cellars to learn lessons from each other. This was a joy for Maya because she got to read, write, and speak Polish.

Manya had always wanted to go to a legal university, and so had her sister Bronya, but there was not enough money for both of them to go. So, Manya worked while Bronya went to college at a French university. Manya sent most of her money to Bronya to help pay for school. When Bronya graduated, she would work while Manya went to college.

While Bronya got an education, Marie worked as a governess. She went to the country to work for a family with a little boy and a girl, about Manya’s age. She and Manya taught some of the poor country children to read and write Polish. When her employer’s son, Casmir, came home for the holidays, Manya fell in love. When they got engaged, Casmir’s parents would not let the couple marry because Maya wasn’t rich. Sadly, she continued to work for the family until they no longer needed her.

Manya’s father then got a good enough job to pay for Bronya’s college education. Manya could now save some of her money. After this, Manya received a letter from Bronya saying that she was a doctor and that she was engaged to another doctor. Bronya invited Manya to come live in Paris and go to school. Manya agreed to go the next year. She saved as much money as possible. Manya was happy when she left for Paris, France. During this time, Manya decided to take a French name, Marie. She went to a French university called Sorbonne. She was one of the only women in her class. She worked very hard and after three years, she had earned a degree in physics and mathematics. When at a friend’s house, Marie met a scientist, Pierre Curie. They talked often about their work and eventually became close. Marie married Pierre Curie on July 26, 1895.

Marie Curie had her first child, Irene in 1897. She also decided to get a doctorate degree. For this, Marie needed to write a thesis. She chose to write a thesis on uranium and radioactivity, a property that she discovered while researching. She tested many rocks that contained uranium, but they always had the same radioactivity. That is, until she experimented with an ore called pitchblende. Compared to uranium, it was four times more radioactive. When Marie told Pierre of her work, he left his own to help her. They experimented on the pitchblende in an old shed, used as a laboratory. After years of researching and refining the material, she had isolated a sample of polonium, four hundred more radioactive than uranium. She also isolated a sample of radium, nine hundred times more radioactive than pure uranium. Radium killed tissues, and could be used to treat some kinds of cancer. Alone, radium shined a dull white. It made everything around it radioactive. Both of these elements she had discovered in her lab with Pierre. By 1903, she had her Ph.D. in physics.

Marie went on to win a Nobel Prize and have a second daughter, Eve, before Pierre died. She took over his job as a professor at Sorbonne, and was the first female professor there. She got a second Nobel Prize, gave two hundred hospitals x-ray units for WW1 and acquired a gram of radium. Marie Curie died on July 4, 1934 of leukemia, a blood cancer, caused by a lifetime of exposure to radioactive materials. Even after she is gone, Marie Curie is remembered for her many achievements.

Fun Fact: Marie Curie’s notes on radium are still highly radioactive.


Poynter, Margaret. Great Minds of Science: Marie Curie Discoverer of Radium. New Jersey: Enslow Publishers Inc., 1994.

Santella, Andrew. Trailblazers of the Modern World: Marie Curie. Wisconsin: World Almanac Library, 2001.


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"Marie Curie." The Blackbirch Encyclopedia of Science & Invention. 4 vols. Blackbirch Press, 2001. Reproduced in Kids InfoBits. Detroit: Gale, 2009.

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