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The History Makers: Marie Curie

Marie Curie’s discoveries of strange, glowing radioactive elements rocked Victorian Europe. But, as Jheni Osman reveals, her ground-breaking work also led to her demise…
PIONEERING POLE Marie Curie remains the only person to scoop two Nobel Prizes in di erent scientific disciplines. She was a woman who refused to let her gender – or her private life – interfere with her career

The rhythmic clamour of clapping palms filled the auditorium. Shaking hands and reaching out to receive her award, the winner compared it to the last time she’d been awarded the prize -that time she’d been standing alongside her husband. is was another momentous occasion. Another record-breaker, shaking up the chauvinistic world of science.

Only one person in history has received two Nobel Prizes in two di erent scientific fields. at person is Marie Curie. Outwardly shy and retiring, this obsessive genius was not only the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize, but the only woman to win twice. But she was to pay a heavy price for her ground-breaking work.

Born Maria Sklodowska on 7 November 1867 in Warsaw, in what was then the Land of the Vistula, part of the Russian Empire, she grew up in an intellectual but impoverished family. Her father was a physics teacher, staunch atheist and patriot, intent on an independent Poland. His views clashed with those of the authorities and meant he struggled to hold down a job. Maria spent her early years growing up in the boarding school that her devout Catholic mother ran.

But when her mother died of tuberculosis, 11-year-old Maria sought refuge by helping out her father in his laboratory. The quiet, rational world of pipettes and problem-solving was a far cry from the political turmoil outside. But when Maria turned 18, financial reality dragged her away from this safe haven. She struck a deal with her sister, Bronya. While Maria worked as a governess to the daughters of a Russian nobleman, she’d save her hard-earned cash to support Bronya while her sister studied medicine in Paris. In return, once she’d become a doctor, Bronya would fund Maria coming to Paris to study.

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About History Revealed

The May 2016 issue of History Revealed