Was Madame Marie Curie Taken Seriously in her lifetime?

Madame Marie Curie

In 1903, Madame Curie would be honored with her first Nobel Prize in Physics, shared by her husband Pierre and French Physicist Henri Becquerel, “in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”

Nine years earlier, Curie, then Marie Skłodowska was denied a place at Krakow University because she was a woman.

Not only was she the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize for Physics, it was shared by she and two men.  It was she who began studying uranium rays using the Curie electrometer.  Her technique was individual and resulted in her finding the radiation was not the outcome of molecule interactions, instead it came from the atom.   Around 1898 Pierre, became so excited by her work, he abandoned his study on crystals.

Author of Marie Curie, Robert Reid writes, “The idea was her own; no one helped her formulate it, and although she took it to her husband for his opinion, she clearly established her ownership of it. She later recorded the fact twice in her biography of her husband to ensure there was not chance whatever of any ambiguity.”

Pierre died in 1906 from a freak street accident.  Five years later, Madame Curie would be honored a second time with sole recognition with a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911, acknowledging her “discovery of the elements of radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.”

But even as she was being honored, scandal erupted when it was revealed that she had had an affair with fellow French physicist Paul Langevin, a former student of her huband’s.  Although Langevin was separated from his wife at that time, and Curie was a widow, her academic rivals exploited it.

Even with all her achievements including the Nobel Prize for Physics, chair of the physics laboratory at the Sorbonne, a doctorate in science and  professor of general physics in the Faculty of Sciences, she was denied membership in 1911 to the male-only French Academy of Sciences.  Later that year, she would be award her second Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

It would take another 50 years, in 1962, for the Academy to accept its first woman – Madame Curie’s doctoral student, Margerite Perey. The Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie and her husband Frederic Joliot-Curie also received a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discover of artificial radioactivity…AND the Curie’s grandchildren Helen Langevin-Joliot (she married the grandson of Curie’s lover Paul Langevin) is a nuclear physicist and her brother Pierre Joliot is a biochemist.

Can you imagine what holidays are like in their house.


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