5 Radioactive Facts About Marie Curie

On April 20, 1902, scientist Marie Curie successfully isolated the element radium while researching pitchblende from her laboratory in Paris. Here are 5 things you never knew about Marie Curie…


She Won Nobel Prizes in Two Different Sciences Curie won a Nobel Prize for physics in 1903, along with her French physicist husband, Pierre, and physicist Henri Becquerel for the advances they had made in the subject of radioactivity. In 1911, Curie won a second Nobel Prize in the category of chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium. Madam Curie is the only person to have ever received Nobel Prizes in two different sciences.

Her Daughter Also Won The Nobel Prize In the case of Marie and Pierre Curie’s eldest daughter, Irène, it can safely be said that the apple did not fall far from the tree.  Irene grew up to marry Frederic Joliot-Curie, and the two were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the breakthroughs they had made in the synthesis of new radioactive elements. Though it had been Curie's pleasure to have witnessed her daughter and son-in-law’s successful research, she did not live to see them win the award.


She Worked Out of a Shack It may come as a surprise to know that Curie and Pierre conducted the bulk of the research and experimentation which led to the discovery of the elements Radium and Polonium in what was described by the respected German chemist, Wilhelm Ostwald, as “a cross between a stable and a potato shed.” In fact, when he was first shown the premises, he assumed that it was “a practical joke.” Even after the couple had won the Nobel Prize for their discoveries, Pierre died never having set foot in the new laboratory that the University of Paris had promised to build them.

Curie’s Study of Radium Is What Killed Her Curie died of aplastic anemia on July 4, 1934, which is believed to have been caused by her long-term exposure to radiation during her career. Safety measures had not yet been developed to improve safety while working near or with radium, but scientists now use protective clothing, gloves, and other protective gear and keep the element in boxes lined with lead. Her husband, Pierre, had died in 1906 at age 46 when he slipped and fell under the wheels of a vehicle being pulled by horses.

Her Laboratory Notes Are Still Radioactive Though Marie and Pierre were at the forefront of research into radioactivity, the duo had no idea how harmful the elements they studied were to the human body. Both scientists handled radium with zero protection. Pierre supposedly kept a chunk of uranium in his pocket for the curious to observe its heating and glowing properties while Marie kept some by her bedside as a night-light. It wasn't until well after Marie's death that the effects of radioactivity on the human body were thoroughly understood. Given their reckless handling of the elements, many of the Curies' possessions remain so radioactive today that researchers cannot safely handle them.