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.

Pierre Curie [Wikipedia]

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.

Maria Sklodowska-Curie [Wikipedia]

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.

New dis­cov­er­ies

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.

Monument to Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw [Deposit Photos]

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.