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Marie Curie

Marie Curie, born in Poland in 1867 graduated at the top of her high school class but was not allowed into University in Russian governed Poland due to her gender. Fortunately she managed to get herself to Paris and successfully applied to The Sorbonne to study Physics and Maths. She was dedicated student, going on to study radioactivity at a postgraduate level and a serious achiever. She was the

  • first woman in France to be awarded a doctorate
  • first woman to be awarded a Nobel prize
  • first person to achieve two Nobel prizes

Her first Nobel prize (for Physics in 1903) was awarded for the isolation of the two radioactive elements, polonium and radium. This work was carried out jointly with her mentor Henri Becquerel and her husband Pierre Curie. Though Pierre was killed in a road accident in 1906 and left her to raise their young family alone she continued to investigate the properties of radium and in 1911 received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

She was very supportive of the use of radioactivity in imaging and when war broke out in  Europe in 1914 personally worked to develop mobile radiography units for imaging soldiers' bullet and shrapnel wounds. These became known as 'petites Curies'.

For all she was aware of the dangers of radioactivity, sounding off at the American industrialists who did not protect their radium factory workers (see The Radium Girls), she did not always take proper precautions herself. She died in 1934 from aplastic anaemia which is often linked to her exposure to ionising radiation.

  Radiation Kills.

Marie Curie spoke of her joy in the discovery of radiation but it is unlikely that workers in Chernobyl felt much joy after being irradiated when the nuclear power plant exploded in 1986. Ionising radiation can be used to save lives by eradicating tumours and allowing us to 'see' damaged internal organs but has also killed thousands in nuclear accidents and bombs. 

You are leading a debating team and have to oppose the motion "This house believes that the world would be a better place if Marie Curie had accepted the ruling that girls should not go to University and stayed at home in Poland". Write out your opening speech.

The Radium Girls

Marie Curie

the joy which I feel while thinking of radioactivity