Marie Skłodowska-Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences.
Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born on 7 November 1867, the fifth and youngest child of teachers Bronislawa, née Boguska, and Wladyslaw Sklodowski in Warsaw in the Kingdom of Poland, then part of the Russian Empire. She studied at Warsaw’s ‘Floating’ University and began her practical scientific training in Warsaw. In late 1891, aged 24, she followed her older sister Bronislawa to study at the University of Paris, where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and with physicist Henri Becquerel “in recognition of the extraordinary services rendered by her joint researches on the radiation phenomena”. Then in 1911 she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry 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 this remarkable element”.
Her achievements included a theory of radioactivity, techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw, which remain major centres of medical research today. During World War I, she established the first military field radiological centres.
Marie Curie never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. She named the first chemical element that she discovered – polonium, which she first isolated in 1898 – after her native country.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie died in France in 1934.