Marie Curie, the life-saver driven by discovery

Samantha David assesses the extraordinary working life and legacy of the Polish-born, French naturalised scientist

Marie Curie was born 150 years ago this year, in Warsaw, Poland, but has become one of France’s most famous daughters. Born Maria Salomea Sklodowska (November 7, 1867), the youngest of five children, from the beginning her passion for scientific research was unquenchable. As a child, her father instructed her in maths, physics and laboratory work, and after her mother died when she was 10, she was sent to boarding school and then to a grammar school, from which she graduated with a gold medal.

She wanted to continue her studies but women were not allowed to enrol at universities. So she worked as a tutor and, with her sister Bronislawa, attended classes at a clandestine, pro-Polish, anti-Russian, “Flying” (or sometimes known as “Floating”) University.

It still wasn’t enough, however. Both women desperately wanted to advance their knowledge but in Russian-occupied Poland, it was impossible. Maria’s family, on both her mother’s and her father’s side, had already lost their lands and fortunes due to their anti-Russian sentiments, and her father had been demoted at work. So the sisters looked abroad for educational possibilities, and struck a bargain. Maria, the younger ...

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