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Friday, September 23, 2011

First person honored with two Nobel Prizes in Physics and Chemistry.

Marie Skłodowska Curie (7 November 1867 – 4 July 1934) was a Polish–French physicist–chemist famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first person honored with two Nobel Prizes in physics and chemistry. She was the first female professor at the University of Paris. She was the first woman to be entombed on her own merits (in 1995) in the Paris Panthéon.
She was born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Warsaw, in Russian Poland, and lived there to age twenty-four. In 1891 she followed her older sister Bronisława to study in Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared her Nobel Prize in Physics (1903) with her husband Pierre Curie (and with Henri Becquerel). Her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, would similarly share a Nobel Prize. She was the sole winner of the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and is the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.

Her achievements include a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes: the Curie Institute (Paris) and the Curie Institute (Warsaw).

While an actively loyal French citizen, Skłodowska–Curie (as she styled herself) never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element that she discovered "polonium" (1898) for her native country. During World War I she became a member of the Committee for a Free Poland (Komitet Wolnej Polski).In 1932 she founded a Radium Institute (now the Maria Skłodowska–Curie Institute of Oncology) in her home town, Warsaw, headed by her physician-sister Bronisława.

Maria's father was an atheist; her mother—a devout Catholic.Two years earlier Maria's oldest sibling, Zofia, had died of typhus. The deaths of her mother and sister, according to Robert William Reid, caused Maria to give up Catholicism and become agnostic.In 1903 the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel."Skłodowska–Curie and her husband were unable to go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person, but they shared its financial proceeds with needy acquaintances, including students.

On receiving the Nobel Prize, Marie and Pierre Curie suddenly became very famous.Skłodowska-Curie was devastated by the death of her husband. She noted that, as of that moment she suddenly had become "an incurably and wretchedly lonely person". On 13 May 1906, the Sorbonne physics department decided to retain the chair that had been created for Pierre Curie and they entrusted it to Skłodowska-Curie together with full authority over the laboratory. This allowed her to emerge from Pierre's shadow. She became the first woman to become a professor at the Sorbonne, and in her exhausting work regime she sought a meaning for her life.

Skłodowska–Curie visited Poland for the last time in the spring of 1934.Only a few months later, on 4 July 1934, Skłodowska-Curie died at the Sancellemoz Sanatorium in Passy, in Haute-Savoie, eastern France, from aplastic anemia contracted from exposure to radiation.The damaging effects of ionizing radiation were not then known, and much of her work had been carried out in a shed, without proper safety measures. She had carried test tubes containing radioactive isotopes in her pocket and stored them in her desk drawer, remarking on the pretty blue-green light that the substances gave off in the dark.

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