Marie Curie is a renowned personality on the globe for being an exceptional in the world of sciences. Yet, people are only familiar with her professional achievements and unaware about her other lineaments. She was not merely a genius but an independent yet hardworking teenager, a learner, a passionate lover, a loyal spouse and an affectionate mother.
Talent is Born
On November 1867, a Polish teacher gave birth to the last of her final children, a daughter named Marya (also known as Marie) Sklodowska in Warsaw of Poland. Marya’s mother Bronislawa was a devout catholic and father Wladyslaw an atheist. Marya’s older siblings were Zofia, Jozef, Bronislawa and Helena. In the early years, the Sklodowski children had a comfortable home, exciting holidays in the countryside with relatives and lots of love and attention from their devoted parents.
Marya’s father taught mathematics and physics thus she too build up interest in the same. Marya became a fluent reader only at the age of 4. In the family sitting room it was only her who was drawn to her father’s scientific instruments- the barometer, the tubes, the scales and the gold leaf electroscope. As a child she had a phenomenal memory and was soon fluent in both Russian and her native Polish.
Marya’s father was also the director of gymnasia for boys. Marya’s mother run a boarding school for girls only till the happy family was stalked by tragedy when tuberculosis struck Mrs. Sklodowska. Marya’s mother was very close to her youngest daughter out of the rest yet she never let any of her children hug or kiss her at the time she was infected by the dreadful disease. She died when Marya was just twelve. Sooner, Marya’s oldest sibling Zofia too died of typhus. The death of her mother and sister caused Marya to give up Catholicism and become a nescient. Young Marya learnt very early that life can be cruel.
As the young grew rapidly, Bronya won a gold medal at school as the most outstanding pupil so did Jozef. During Marya’s adolescent years, she attended a gymnasium for girls from which she graduated on 12th June 1883. She too bagged a gold medal for being a best pupil keeping the family tradition going on. Following years, she did tutoring. Later, both her paternal and maternal sides saw huge loss in property and fortunes which eventually condemned Marya and her siblings to an arduous phase of life.
The advent of first love
Marya and her sister Bronislawa saw a way out of this. They mutually decided to provide financial assistance to each other for future studies in Paris. Initially, Bronislawa went to Paris and Marya aided her by taking a position of governess at a lawyer’s family, then with a landed family, the Zorawskis. There she fell in love with their son Kazimierz. Unfortunately, his family was against their relationship as they did not approve of their wealthy son getting married to an indigent woman.
Marya lost her job and later worked with the Fuchs family in Sopot. Until then, she made sure of furnishing financial succour as promised to her sister studying in Paris. Although, she did not know it at the time that this phase was a blessing in disguise.
Bidding him adieu
In 1890, Bronislawa after she married Dluski called down Marya to join them in Paris but Marya refused it as she lacked the university tuition fee and was also counting on marrying Kazimierz.
She then returned home and stayed at her fathers. She tutored and also studied at the Clandestine Floating University and began her practical scientific training in a laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture during 1890-91.
In 1891, Marya received a doleful letter from Kazimierz breaking the relationship with her. On her sister’s insistence, Marya went to Paris. Little did she know, Marya never returned to Poland after that. The break up indeed was distressing for her but life had to go on. Hence, Marya proceeded with her studies of physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the Sorbonne. She was so dedicated to her world of sciences that never did she felt of socializing with anyone around her. Nobody even knew her name there.
Marya lived with her sister and her husband in their flat. Much as Marya loved their company, she felt that it stopped her from working; so she decided to rent a small attic of her own close to the university. The fact that she had no money and did not know how to cook even simple soup did not put her off.
In Marya’s words;
Ah! Harshly the youth of the student passes,
When all around her with passions ever fresh,
Other youths eagerly search for easy pleasures,
She lives obscure and blessed
For in her cell she finds the ardour
That makes her heart immense.
Magnetism drew similar energies together
Marya had seen the worst phase earlier. This made her mentally and emotionally even determinant to reach her goals. She continued tutoring and studying side by side. In 1893, she was awarded a degree in physics and began work in a laboratory at Lippmann’s.
Same year, Pierre Curie entered her life. He was an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry. Pierre was an intelligent man yet dreamy and a loner. He was a tall but a bit unruly looking with a full beard, though he was very graceful and attractive with his dark burning eyes. He too had seen a failure at relationship hence considered romance a waste of time. He had also quoted that ‘women of genius are rare’. At the age of 35, he was a successful scientist who seemed to destine his life to his work without any clue that a woman named Marya would change his plan.
Meanwhile, Marya had begun her scientific career in Paris with an investigation of magnetic properties. Immense interest in magnetism brought the two together. At the first meeting, they both couldn’t stop talking about physics. It was a meeting of two great minds. Now who knew this partnership would be the greatest the world has ever known.
Pierre couldn’t stop thinking about this young, talented woman. After several meetings, the eight year older man was the first one to declare his love for her. It took a year for Marya to make up her mind. But as they say, love finds its way; the same happened with the two.
In 1895, they married and made crucial contribution in Physics and Chemistry together. Married life was a challenging one for Marya. She wanted to prepare wholesome meal for her beloved husband but cooking felt harder than physics for her, although she balanced everything quite well.
In 1897, Marya was expecting her first child and also working on the publication of her major research on magnetism. Pregnancy made her too tired often yet she was determined to keep her work going on. On 12th September, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl Irene.
Even after the child was born, Marya never stopped working. Although she felt keeping her baby with the nurse very hard hence she would always run to see the child as soon as she started to sob. On the other hand, she was a great spouse too. Both husband and wife made it sure of mentioning a ‘we founded’ on paper during every research on radioactivity.
Endeavouring to win it
Marya discovered radium and paved the way to nuclear physics and cancer therapy. She received her doctor of science degree later. Marya was the first person to coin the word ‘RADIOACTIVITY’. She along with her husband discovered that radioactivity was not the result of chemical reaction but a property of element or of the atom.
They both developed methods to separate radium from radioactive residues to study its therapeutic properties. It was because of their hard work, radium began to be used to treat malignant tumors. Both won Nobel Prize in 1903 for physics.
Although they did not know it, Marie and Pierre were moving to an end of their immensely creative working partnership.
In 1906, Pierre died in a street accident. Curie was devastated by this eventually becoming a lonely person. In one brief moment she had lost her partner in life and work, the father of her children and her closest friend. She never fully recovered from the loss.
In her diary she wrote:
Pierre, my Pierre you are there
Calm as a poor wounded man resting in sleep, His head bandaged
Your face is sweet and serene
It is still you lost in a dream
From which you can never get out.
Marya was devastated; she wore black and was utterly destroyed from within. Later she was offered to take over Pierre’s professorship at the school of physics. It was the first time such a post had been offered to a woman. Full of uncertainty, she accepted. On 13th may 1906, she became the first woman professor of general physics in faculty of sciences thereby starting an altogether new life for her. Thus she took up the challenge of leading her new life alone, supporting her family and continuing her work.
In 1911, she was accused of having an affair with Paul Langavin, a former student of Pierre Curie. Side tracking all these allegations, Curie started fighting the stupidity and prejudices of her time which included chauvinism and sexism. She competed to join academy of sciences which was an all male society. Tried hard but could not get through thereby making a firm decision of not joining the academy ever after.
The same year she won her second Nobel Prize for chemistry. Winning the two Nobel Prizes had given her enough money to live and work without concern. Yet she ploughed all of it into the French war and lost it all. However, help came from someone unexpected.
Mrs. Meloney Brown an editor of a prestigious New York magazine was always keen on meeting the genius. When this American lady learned that Marya had little equipment in her new laboratory, she started a Marie Curie Radium Fund which helped in getting the required money. When Marya went to America to receive the fund, she was surprised by the concern and support of people for her which she never got from the French Government. On her way back home, she had won many hearts and a lifelong friend in Mrs. Meloney.
The research cost her own life
As a young student Marya had eaten poorly and made herself ill. Once she started working on Radioactivity, she took no precautions handling her beloved radium with bare hands and unshaded eyes. As she got older, she had to pay a huge price for this. In 1923, she was threatened with blindness when cataracts took her eyesight but surgery recovered the vision. The damage on the other hand to her internal organs could not be rectified easily. With regular high fevers in 1934, doctors could not understand what was wrong with her.
After having exposed to incredible levels of radiation in her research, Curie developed Leukaemia and died in July 4, 1934 in France. Marya’s precious radium was the cause of her death. At a relatively young age of 67, she was buried with her beloved Pierre in the family tomb at Screaux.
She lived a great life. But didn’t she deserve more in return?
Even after her death people remember her for being an intensive scholar in science. Nobody really cared to know what this robust woman went through all her life.
Well here’s in short, Madame Curie not just deserves appreciation for her intellect but also for her staunch approach throughout her life. She saw bad times more than good. What seemed so fine for everybody else was in reality so heavy on her. Not once did she stop and look back or curse anyone for her hardships instead accepted all the challenges and accomplished them too. Also, the radium that she discovered with her husband is still used to cure cancers.
Marie Curie always said, "I was taught that the way of progress is neither swift nor easy".
With such ideologies, she lead an affirmative life and rest alongside Victor Hugo and other notable figures under the famous dome of the Pantheon in Paris.
If this fragile, naïve woman can pursue all her dreams and become one in a million then why can’t we all too dream not to become ‘Someone’ but to become ‘The One’!