The name Marie Curie is well known now, but it was hard to be a woman physicist in the early 19th century. She started her scientific studies in Poland but, as a woman, was forbidden to attend the men’s-only University of Warsaw.
The only option was to complete her education in a “floating university” – an underground educational system that moved from location to location to avoid the watchful eye of the authorities. She eventually moved to Paris to complete her studies where she met her husband and, together, they announced the discovery of new chemical elements – polonium and radium. They were both awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903.
When Marie’s husband was killed in a road accident, she took over his teaching post and became the first woman to teach at the prestigious Sorbonne. While here, she received her second Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911.
Marie’s research was crucial in the development of x-rays. During World War One, she helped equip ambulances with x-ray equipment which she herself drove to the front lines.
Marie Curie died on 4 July 1934 from leukaemia, caused by exposure to high-energy radiation from her research. Truly a woman of firsts, she is remembered as a leading figure in science who discovered radioactivity, and whose pioneering work helped create X-ray technology that is still central to medical practice today.
"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood."
— Marie Curie