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Madame Curie. A Biography
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Madame Curie. A Biography

The story of the great Polish Nobel Prize-winning scientist

Marie Curie’s life, work, and discoveries continue to have an enormous impact on the world as we know it: from her contribution to the recognition of women’s potential, and her example of dedication and resilience, to her research that pioneered the study of the atom and ground-breaking cancer treatments. Madame Curie: A Biography is written by one of her daughters, Eve Curie, and tells the life story of, arguably, the most famous female scientist of all time.

Madame Curie. A Biography
Read in 15 min.
Listen in 19 min.

Marie’s early years were far from easy

Marie Salomea Sklodowska, better known by her married name Marie Curie, was born in Warsaw on the 7th of November 1867. She was the fifth and youngest child in her family, and lived in what was then the Kingdom of Poland, part of the Russian Empire. At the time, her father taught mathematics and physics, and ran two secondary schools for boys in Warsaw. After the Russian authorities eliminated all laboratory lessons from the education system in Polish schools, however, he took most of the equipment home and taught his own children how to use it. This undoubtedly influenced Marie’s future career as a scientist.

Her father was later fired due to his pro-Polish stance, and for a while was forced to accept various low-paid jobs. Marie’s mother ran a prestigious boarding school for girls in Warsaw, but resigned straight after Marie was born. She died of tuberculosis in May 1878 when Marie was 11, only three years after the death of Marie’s older sister, Zofia. When she was ten years old, Marie went to the J. Sikorska boarding school, and later a gymnasium for girls, from which she graduated with honours in 1883. Following a collapse, possibly due to depression, she spent the next year in the countryside with some of her father’s relatives, and in 1885 returned to live with her father in Warsaw.

Being female, Marie was not allowed to enrol in a normal high school, so she and her sister Bronislawa became involved in the clandestine Warsaw Flying University project, a Polish patriotic institution of higher education that also admitted female students. Marie later took up a position as a governess, first in Warsaw and then for the Zorawski family in Szczuki, who were related to her father. While working for the Zorawski’s, she fell in love with their son Kazimierz, but they did not get married because his family was opposed to the union.

At the beginning of 1890, her sister Bronislawa invited Marie to join her in Paris. Marie was unable to move until a year and a half later, when she had finally saved enough money to afford the university fees. In the meantime, however, she continued her education by studying independently, and began her practical scientific training in a chemical laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture in Warsaw.


The key ideas of "Madame Curie. A Biography"

Marie’s early years were far from easy
Marie began to pursue her scientific career in Paris, partly as a result of meeting her future husband Pierre Curie
Marie made several important scientific discoveries between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, and became a well-known scientist
Marie won two Nobel Prizes in the early 1900s
During the First World War, Marie continued to make useful scientific discoveries, and gained further international recognition in the aftermath of the war
Marie died of excessive exposure to radiation, the negative effects of which were not known in the early decades of the 20th century
Madame Curie’s incredible scientific, social, and moral legacy still survives to this day
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