Marie Curie






            Marie Curie was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She is by all accounts the most accomplished scientist of her time given that she won two noble prizes in her lifetime: the first one jointly with her husband in 1903 for their immense contribution in the area of radioactivity in physics, and the second one in 1911. Marie grew up at a time when the Russian Tsar ruled over Poland. The Tsar was opposed to women attending university. Marie was one of four siblings and both of her parents were teachers. She attained the highest academic grades at the age of 15 but had to stop schooling after suffering from a "nervous disorder". She started her university studies at Paris-based Sorbonne University aged 24 where was enrolled on a postgraduate scholarship in mathematics and physics (Curie, 2007). There, she met Pierre Curie, a Professor of physics who managed the university's research laboratory. The two became very close and married one year later. Together with her husband, Marie Curie undertook the investigation of radioactive elements, leading to their discovery of some new chemical elements namely, polonium and radium. The main reason for choosing to study Marie Curie in this essay is because she was the first woman scientist to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry and because her pioneering work was instrumental in the development of x-ray technology and radiation therapy.

Marie Curie’s work leading up to the Nobel Prize

            The award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry of Marie Curie in 1911 was a culmination of her contribution to the discovery of uranium and polonium.  This was following Marie's interest in the work of Henri Becquerel, a French physicist who had discovered that minerals with the element uranium had a tendency to emit strong radiation. This discovery was of special interest to Marie and she devised a means of making accurate radiation measurements.  She discovered that minerals with higher levels of uranium were also characterized by stronger radiations. She further discovered that the mineral with the element thorium also emitted this radiation. Marie was also fascinated to learn that the uranium ore pitchblende had a higher radioactivity in comparison with what could be delivered by the uranium in the mineral even though pitchblende had no uranium (Atkins, 2010). This prompted Marie Curie to hypothesize that pitchblende contained another element of higher radioactivity that had not yet been discovered. This development excited Pierre Curie and he decided to assist Marie in her newest research and together, they discovered radium and polonium as two new chemical elements. Polonium got its name from Poland where Marie was born, while Radium derived its name from a Latin word that means ray.

Chemistry done to win the Nobel Prize

            As noted earlier, Marie Curie won two Nobel Prizes. However, she won the first one was divided into two: Antonie Henri Bescquerel won the first half, while Currie was jointly awarded the other half.  The focus of the essay is on the second Nobel Prize that Marie Curie won in 1911. This particular Nobel Prize was awarded to her “in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of these remarkable elements” (L'Annunziata, 2007, p. 54).  This was a culmination of her work in successfully isolating the element radium, as well as in defining an IS (international standard) for the curie, the radioactive emission named after the couple. The discovery of radium, and its subsequent isolation, was deemed by chemists as the greatest achievement in the discipline since oxygen had been discovered (Kotz, Treichel, and Weaver, 2006). This rare feat, achieved by Marie Curie with the help of her dedicated lab assistant, André Debierne, was the first revelation of an ability to transmute an element into another (Hamblin, 2005). This discovery typified a new epoch that heralded a complete revolution in chemistry and was worth the Nobel Prize by all accounts.


Impact or modern-day application which led from the original discovery       

            The discovery of the radioactive elements polonium and radium has been instrumental in the advancement of modern-day medicine. In particular, the radioactive isotopes of these elements have been applied in nuclear medicine, a comparatively new technique that utilises radioisotope-labelled substances introduced into the patient's organs for proposes of facilitating imaging f various tumours (Ku?akowski, 2011).  The discoveries made by Marie Curie have been especially useful in transforming diagnostic and therapeutic discoveries in medicine, and more so in the field of oncology (Claudio and Vogiatzi, 2014).  The discovery of polonium and radium initially resulted in a swift and almost unrestrained application of these elements in virtually all the fields of medicine and life. There were no proper safety measures and dosimetric methods regarding their use, and this led to fatal complications. However, this gave birth to the development of elaborate principles of radiotherapy, which has in turn proven to be a fundamental therapeutic technique in oncology (Ku?akowski, 2011).  Atoms in radioactive elements emit varying forms of radiation. The high energy contained in such radiation has been utilised in treating cancer through radiation therapy. The discovery by Marie Curie has helped to better understand atom structure.


            Marie Curie was the first woman to receive two Nobel Prizes and was undoubtedly the greatest female scientist of her time. Her breakthrough n the discovery of the radioactive substances polonium and radium resulted in their uptake in medicine and another field. In particular, these elements were influential in the development of radiation therapy to treat cancerous tumours. Marie Curie, who was herself a victim of a lack of safety measures and dosimetry in the use of radioactive substances, helped in the development of elaborate principles of safety in the use of radiotherapy. Her discoveries have also enabled scientists to understand atom structure better.


Atkins, P., 2010. Shriver and Atkins’ Inorganic Chemistry. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Claudio, P.P., and Vogiatzi, P., 2014. Cutting Edge Therapies for Cancer in the 21st Century

Sharjah, UAE: Bentham Publishers.

Curie, E., 2007. Madame Curie - A Biography by Eve Curie. Worcestershire, England: Read Books.

Hamblin, J.D., 2005. Science in the Early Twentieth Century: An Encyclopedia. Goleta, CA: ABC-CLIO.

Kotz, J., Triechel, P., and Weaver, G., 2006. Chemistry and Chemical Reactivity, Enhanced Review Edition. Stamford, Mass.: Cengage Learning.

Ku?akowski, A., 2011. The contribution of Marie Sk?odowska-Curie to the development of modern oncology. Anal Bioanal Chem., 400(6), 1583-1586.

L'Annunziata, M., 2007. Radioactivity: Introduction and History. New York: Elsevier. 




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