What made the Curies famous
Due to them people learned to use nuclear energy
Pierre and Marie Curie were the first physicists to study the radioactivity of elements. They won the Nobel Prize for Physics for their contribution to science. After her husband died, Marie Curie also won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for discovering a separate chemical element – radium.
Before Pierre met Marie
Pierre was born in Paris, into the family of a doctor. He had an excellent education – first he studied at home, then he enrolled at the Sorbonne. At the age of 18, Pierre received a degree in physics.
At the beginning of his scientific career, the young man discovered piezoelectricity, together with his brother Jacques. In experiments, the brothers concluded that as a result of the compression of a hemihedral crystal with uneven edges, electrical polarization of a specific direction arises. If this crystal is elongated, electricity is released in the opposite direction.
After this, the Curie brothers discovered the opposite effect of the deformation of crystals under the influence of high voltage. The young men created piezoquartz, and studied its electric deformations. Pierre and Jacques Curie learned to use piezoquartz to measure weak currents and electrical charges. The brothers continued their productive cooperation for five years, but then they parted ways. In 1891 Pierre made experiments on magnetism and discovered Curie’s law – on the dependence of paramagnetic bodies on the temperature.
Before Marie Skłodowska met Pierre
Marie Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, into the family of a teacher. After graduating from high school, she enrolled in the physics and mathematics faculty of the Sorbonne. One of the finest pupils at the university, Skłodowska studied chemistry and physics, and devoted her free time to independent studies.
In 1893, Marie received a degree in physics, and in mathematics in 1894. In 1895 Maria married Pierre Curie
The studies of Pierre and Marie Curie
The couple began to study radioactive elements. They redefined the significance of Becquerel’s discovery, who had discovered the radioactive properties of uranium and compared it to phosphorescence. Becquerel believed that the radiation of uranium was a process resembling the properties of light waves. But the scientist was unable to reveal the nature of the phenomenon he had discovered.
Pierre and Marie Curie continued Becquerel’s work, studying the phenomenon of the radiation of metals, including uranium. The couple introduced the word “radioactivity”, revealing the essence of the phenomenon discovered by Becquerel.
In 1898, Pierre and Marie discovered a new radioactive element and called it “polonium” in honor of Poland, Marie’s homeland. This silver-white soft metal filled one of the empty spaces in Mendeleev’s periodic table of chemical elements – number 86. At the end of that year the Curies discovered radium, a shiny alkaline earth metal, with radioactive properties. It filled the 88th place in the periodic table.
After radium and polonium, Marie and Pierre Curie discovered a number of other radioactive elements. The scientists established that all the heavy elements at the bottom of the periodic table had radioactive properties. In 1906, Pierre and Marie discovered that an element contained in the cells of all living creatures on Earth was radioactive – an isotope of potassium. Click here to find out more discoveries that made scientists world-famous.
Contribution to the development of science
In 1906 Pierre Curie fell under a horse-drawn cart and died instantly. After her husband’s death, Marie took his place at the Sorbonne and became the first female professor in history. Skłodowska-Curie read lectures on radioactivity to students of the university.
During WWI Marie, developed X-ray machines for hospitals and worked at the Institute of Radium. Skłodowska-Curie died in 1934 from a severe blood disease caused by long exposure to radiation.
Few of the Curies’ contemporaries understood how important their scientific discoveries were. Thanks to Pierre and Marie, a major breakthrough was made in the life of humanity – people learned to produce atomic energy.