“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.”
Marie Curie wasn’t French. She was born Marie Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland in 1867 to two schoolteachers who raised her with little money in poverty stricken neighborhood. Until her last days Maria Curie-Skłodowska would always count in Polish.
During her first few years in Paris, Marie Curie attended her university classes by day, and worked as a tutor by night. She had so little money that she survived only on tea and buttered bread. She would often faint from hunger and lack of nutrients, only to get right up again and continue with her day.
It was in 1898 that Curie discovered that thorium was a radioactive substance. However, Gerhard Schmidt took the liberty to publish Curie’s discovery as his own.
Luckily, around this same time her husband Pierre decided he would join his wife in her work, and later in 1898 they were ready to publish their own findings of a new element called Polonium. Their regular labs weren’t big enough to accommodate the process, so they moved their work into an old shed behind the school where Pierre worked. According to Curie, the space was a hot house in the summer and drafty in the winter, with a glass roof that didn’t fully protect them from the rain. After the famed German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald visited the Curies’ shed to see the place where radium was discovered, he described it as being “a cross between a stable and a potato shed, and if I had not seen the worktable and items of chemical apparatus, I would have thought that I was been played a practical joke.“
By December, the pair were ready to announce the existence of a second element: radium. In the publication of this finding Curie used the word “radioactivity”, and the rest is history.
At the outbreak of WW1, Curie saw that soldiers often needed urgent care and operations, but Xray machines were inaccessible close to battle.
Curie designed mobile radiography units by installing Xray machines into cars along with generators. These could be deployed on site and help save hundreds of lives as destruction occurred.
She made 20 of these vehicles, all operated by a team of women, and then went on to install 200 more at field hospitals.
In 1934 Curie checked into a treatment center in Passy, Paris, where her intent was to rest and regain strength.
On July 4th Curie passed away from what was later determined to have been aplastic anemia. This is the result to extensive exposure to harmful radiation, which at the time was not known to be a threat to human beings.
Curie spent most of her career carrying test tubes of radioactive isotopes in her pockets, as well as in her desk drawers. It is likely that all of her possessions and paperwork held immense radioactive energy that would eventually lead to her demise.
when the Nobel laureate’s family decided to donate her journals and manuscripts to the National Library in Paris in the middle of the 1990s, their level of radioactive contamination was so high they required 2 years of maintenance to reduce the radioactivity…