Chapter 2 Marie Curie: A Radiant Life

Marie Curie: A Radiant Life by Eve Curie is the biography of the two times Nobel Prize Winner, Marie Curie written by her youngest daughter. It discusses the life and works of Marie in depth. It encapsulates the dedication and selfless service she undertook for the development of the scientific field. Click to read the summary of the chapter, and the important question answers.

Meet the Author

  • Eve Curie is a writer, biographer and concert pianist. She was the youngest daughter of Marie Curie.
  • Born: 1904
  • Place of Birth: France
  • Died: 2009
Marie Salomea Skłodowska–Curie
Marie Salomea Skłodowska–Curie - Photo by Henrie Manuel

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Summary of the Chapter

This chapter captures the life and work of Marie Curie in a nutshell. Let us try and understand the life of this legend!

Science Course at Sorbonne in Paris

Young Marie Curie joined the science course at Sorbonne in Paris during the autumn of 1891. She was a shy and simple girl. She led a minimal and celibate life at college. She was happy and thoroughly focused on her studies and research.

Meeting her Husband

Pierre Curie was a young Frenchman who focused on scientific research. They met each other in 1894. Soon they found each other and their visions. Marrying a French was hard for Marie who hailed from Poland. The thought of leaving Poland after marriage made her worry. She waited 10 months to finally accept his proposal.

Married Life and Research

They put their life together in a little flat. They could not afford comfort or luxury. They were heavily focused on their research and put all their money into the same. Even though Marie’s father wanted to get the furniture for their new home they refused the offer. They only had books, two chairs, a white wooden table that contained a lamp, treaties on physics, and a bunch of flowers.

They led a simple life and spent all their time and energy at the labs. Marie used her scientific brain to chart out easy ways to deal with daily household chores. She focused on food that needed little time to put together. She prepared food that could ‘cook themselves’. She understood the cooking time for each dish and made sure to regulate the flames to get more time to focus on her studies and work.

After completing the household work with a physician's precision she would leave for her research and adjust the burner at the laboratory to get the desired result.

Birth of Irene

She gave birth to a baby girl and named her Irene. Years later she also became a Nobel Prize-Winner. Motherhood did not stop her from working. With her husband’s support, she raised Irene along with her research.

This makes this couple a role model for all couples. The question of dedicating a woman’s life to just the kid was not even a thought for this young hard-working couple. They shared their responsibility and worked hard to balance things out.

Pierre and Marie’s Combined Efforts

Pierre was closely following his wife’s progress in research. Soon he abandoned his research and decided to help his wife. Both these brilliant brains worked hard to find out the unknown element in the cold little storeroom that was their lab.

By July 1898 they announced the discovery of the new element and named it polonium after her birthplace Poland. In December she announced the existence of a second new chemical element called radium. They knew that in this element the radioactivity would be immense.

Marie’s appearance during her research indicates her dedication to her work. She had ‘an old dust-covered acid-stained dress’ that was easy to wear aiding her work. These are considered to be some happy years in her life.

They did not have enough money for their research. Hence they had to teach to maintain the cash flow. In their work, they could not even take care of themselves. Simple things such as sleep and proper food were distant dreams for them. Meanwhile, the radioactivity from there kept them weak and sick.

After endless and tireless work they achieved the process of purifying radium. They were aware that radium will soon be a metal that will change the world’s future. They had two ways ahead. Either they could be the proprietors/inventors, which does not offer any monetary benefits. Or else they could patent their research including the purification process which will help them earn a fortune for their discovery.

The couple decided to be inventors and gave away the fortune they could have made through their inventions. They found it to be against the scientific spirit.

Physicists always publish their researches completely. If our discovery has a commercial future, that is an accident by which we must not profit. And if radium is going to be of use in treating diseases… It is impossible to take advantage of that’.

First Nobel Prize

Through this decision, the couple had chosen to live a life in poverty. On 10 December 1903, the Academy of Science of Stockholm declared the Nobel Prize for Physics. That particular year the award was shared between Henri Becquerel, Monsieur, and Madame Curie for their discoveries in radioactivity.

The Nobel Prize meant seventy thousand gold francs. She did the following with that sum:

  • Paid back the loans taken from Pierre’s brothers
  • Paid back the loans taken from Marie’s sisters
  • Donations to scientific societies
  • Gifts to students & Marie’s childhood friends
  • Installed a modern bathroom
  • Repapered a shabby room in their house

Even then she did not spend anything for herself, even though she did not even have any decent pair of dresses.

Chemistry Lab
Chemistry Lab

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Death of Pierre

Marie was not fond of the limelight and kept away from it. She continued to teach. On the rainy day of April 1906 Pierre lost his life in an accident. After his funeral, the government offered Marie a pension. She denied the offer stating that she was still young and could find a means of living for herself and her children.

Later, the Council of Faculty of Science unanimously decided to entrust Pierre’s post at the Sorbonne to Marie. This marked a major chapter in history. It was the first time that a position in French higher education had been given to a woman!

On the day of her first lecture, she was welcomed with endless applause. She then started exactly from where Pierre had left. Tears rushed into all the faces in the amphitheater.

Second Nobel Prize

In 1911 she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This marked another record. To date, no man or woman has ever received two Nobel Prizes for two different subjects.

She continued her dedicated work in the scientific field until 6th July 1934. Marie was buried next to Pierre in the cemetery at Sceaux in the presence of her family, co-workers, and students.

Words that rightly describe Maries’s character:
Dedicated, Simple, Hardworking, Intellectual, Kind, and Responsible

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Marie Curie: A Radiant Life Questions and Answers

Below are a few questions that you can look out for your examinations and class tests. Stand out with perfectly written answers with help of Aneetta Class.

Marie is a hardworking woman who sacrificed her life for scientific research. Her works and selfless service now benefit millions of people. She was a studious girl who led a simple life. She was not a materialistic person. She spends her prize money to clear her loans and on scientific research. She was a brave woman, even after her husband’s death, she took care of the family through her tireless work.

If Marie accepts the proposal of Pierre, a Frenchman, she will have to leave her hometown, Poland, forever. This made her think about her decision, hence Pierre had to wait to receive a positive response from Marie. In the end, they got married and lived fruitful life.

Even though the government offered a pension she wanted to work and feed her family. She stated that she was still young and wanted to work and feed her family. Hence, she respectfully denied the offer.