Who Was Marie Curie?
Marie Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person man or woman to win the award twice. With her husband Pieree Curie, Marie’s efforts led to the discovery of polonium and radium and, after Pierre’s death, the further development of X-rays. The famed scientist died in 1934 of aplastic anemia likely caused by exposure to radiation.
Early Life and Education
Maria Sklodowska, later known as Marie Curie, was born on November 7, 1867, in Warsaw (modern-day Poland). Curie was the youngest of five children, following siblings Zosia, Józef, Bronya and Hela.
Both of Curie’s parents were teachers. Her father, Wladyslaw, was a math and physics instructor. When she was only 10, Curie lost her mother, Bronislawa, to tuberculosis.
As a child, Curie took after her father. She had a bright and curious mind and excelled at school. But despite being a top student in her secondary school, Curie could not attend the male-only University of Warsaw. She instead continued her education in Warsaw’s “floating university,” a set of underground, informal classes held in secret.
Both Curie and her sister Bronya dreamed of going abroad to earn an official degree, but they lacked the financial resources to pay for more schooling. Undeterred, Curie worked out a deal with her sister: She would work to support Bronya while she was in school, and Bronya would return the favor after she completed her studies.
For roughly five years, Curie worked as a tutor and a governess. She used her spare time to study, reading about physics, chemistry and math.
In 1891, Curie finally made her way to Paris and enrolled at the Sorbonne. She threw herself into her studies, but this dedication had a personal cost: with little money, Curie survived on buttered bread and tea, and her health sometimes suffered because of her poor diet.
Curie completed her master’s degree in physics in 1893 and earned another degree in mathematics the following year.