Marie Curie is widely regarded as a talented scientist whose work has changed the world. She is best known for her discovery of radium and polonium and her work with radioactivity. Curie encountered times of adversity in her career due to prejudice against women in her field, but she met her challenges and overcame them. Marie Curie exceeded the barriers put on women in her time to become one of the world’s most famous scientists and used her knowledge to the benefit of humanity.
Marie Curie was still young when she started breaking barriers. She was born as Marya Salomee Sklodowska on November 7, 1867 in Russia controlled Poland. From an early age, Sklodowska showed a great memory and exceptional intelligence (Yannuzzi 12). Her father encouraged her to see everything as a learning experience. This motivated her to focus on her education and receive the most value from it. (Huso 2). In Poland, not many institutions, including the University of Warsaw, welcomed women. She wanted so desperately to further pursue an education that she attended the Floating University or Flying University, an illegal underground school that admitted girls. It is was at the Flying University that she developed an interest in science and mathematics (Yannuzzi 23).
Even as she continued her education in Paris, she was blazing a path for women as she succeeded in a male dominated academic field. When Sklodowska registered for classes at the University of Paris, she used the French equivalent of her name, Marie. At La Sorbonne, women were the minority, with only 23 out of the two thousand students being female (Yannuzzi 37-38). With perseverance and little money, she got her master’s degree in physics as she graduated at the top of her class. Sklodowska quickly followed with a master’s degree in mathematics (Redniss 25).
With the help of Pierre Curie, she gained recognition in a field with noticeably few women. Marie Sklodowska met Pierre Curie when Joseph Kowalski, a Polish physicist, introduced them so she could use Curie’s lab to study the magnetic properties of various types of steel for a job. Pierre instantly fell in love with Sklodowska, but she was hesitant to start a romantic relationship. She later warmed up to him and they got married in 1895 (Yannuzzi 44-50).
With her revolutionary experiments, she became the first woman in France to get a doctorate. For her doctoral thesis, Curie decided to continue Henri Becquerel’s experiments with X-rays and uranium. Using her husband’s invention, the piezo-quartz electrometer, she came up with the groundbreaking idea that the rays were actually an atomic property of uranium and named the property radioactivity (Redniss 42-44). With this, she began a mission to find new elements with Pierre Curie. Their greatest work was done in a run-down shed from 1898 to 1902. In a mineral called pitchblende, first, she found polonium, which she named for her home country, and then they discovered radium. Discrimination...