The Life and Work of Marie Curie

Robert Callow

Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. In fact, she was awarded two such prizes. The first for Physics, in 1903, shared with Henri Becquerel and her husband Pièrre, was given for the discovery of radioactivity; the second for Chemistry, in 1911, recognised Marie’s discovery of polonium and radium. As Pièrre had died in a road accident in 1906, Marie was the sole recipient. Born Maria Salomea Sklodowska, into a very supportive family in Poland, she rose to the challenge of an education dogged by Russian interference and tyranny. Brilliance and courage saved her fellow students when the Inspector turned up.

In Paris, Marie pursued her passion for physics, under the tutelage of Pièrre Curie who later became her husband. Despite a chronic shortage of funds and facilities, the Curies persevered in their pioneering and dangerous studies. After the death of Pièrre, Marie carried on alone, eventually succeeding in the discovery of two radioactive elements. Marie’s life was not merely one of extraordinary scientific achievement but also that of a caring mother and social benefactor. Marie pioneered the use of radioactivity and X-rays in the treatment of cancer patients and of soldiers wounded on the Western Front during the first world war.

Marie was fêted for her achievements, especially in her home country and in the United States. Formal recognition in France was slow in coming, due more to xenophobia than to lack of understanding. She was a reluctant celebrity who, like her husband, shunned the limelight. Her elder daughter Irène assisted her in the laboratory. Irène and her husband received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935. Marie’s younger daughter Eve wrote a wonderfully revealing and sympathetic biography of her mother, which underpins the presentations in this short course.


Curie, E. (1938). Madame Curie (translated by Vincent Sheean). William Heinemann, London.

Days: Mondays  Time: 10am – 12 noon

5 Mondays: 18, 25 January and 1, 8, 15 February 2021

Online Learning Environment: Zoom

Price for 5  sessions Minimum No. Maximum No.
£20 per linked computer 20

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