5 Radioactive Facts About Marie Curie

On April 20, 1902, Marie and Pierre Curie proved the existence of the new element radium when they chemically isolated one-tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride. The following year, Curie would become the first woman in history to receive a Nobel Prize. To celebrate this exciting scientific discovery, here are five interesting things you may not know about Marie Curie..


Curie's Laboratory Notes are Still Too Radioactive to Be Studied. # Marie Curie's Nobel Prize in Physics photo from 1903. Image source: WikiCommons 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 from aplastic anemia in 1934 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.

Even Marie's Grandkids Have Clout in the Scientific Community. # Marie and Pierre in the lab. Image source: WikiCommons Many people know that Pierre and Marie's oldest daughter, Irene, went on to follow in her parents' footsteps and win a Nobel Prize for chemistry. But few know that both of Irene's children—Helene and Pierre—went on to become distinguished scientists, too. Helene Joliot is 90 years old and a nuclear physicist with a seat on the advisory board to the French government. Pierre, who is 86 now, became a preeminent biologist. He is a researcher at the French National Center for Scientific Research and a member of the French Academy of Sciences.


She Was the First Woman Enshrined in the Pantheon Based on Her Own Merits. In case you're unfamiliar, the Pantheon is a world-famous shrine that houses the remains of the best and brightest from France's history. Everyone from Voltaire to Alexander Dumas calls the Pantheon their final resting place. And in 1995—61 years after her death—Marie Curie officially became the first woman enshrined in the mausoleum based on her contributions to the world (technically Sophie Berthelot was the first woman interred, but she only got in based on her husband's merit). 

Albert Einstein Once Gave Her a Much-Needed Pep Talk. Following the sudden passing of Pierre in 1906, Marie Curie fell into a bit of a depression that culminated with the outing of an on-going relationship she had going with one of Pierre's former students, Paul Langevin. Langevin was married at the time of their relationship in 1911, and though estranged from his wife, the press did not take kindly to Curie's indiscretion. She was bullied and chastised to the point of retreating from public life. Luckily, Curie had impressed another notable scientist by the name of Albert Einstein at their chance meeting earlier that year. When Einstein caught wind of the negative press, he wrote to Curie, telling her to ignore the "hogwash" being written about her and leave it for "the reptile for whom it has been fabricated."

She Met Two U.S. Presidents. In a bitter twist of irony, Curie's very discovery (and her willingness to share the method for extracting it with the wider scientific community) eventually led to a price so exorbitant; she could no longer afford to buy it for her experiments. On two separate occasions, Curie came stateside to cash in on fundraising efforts for purchasing radium. On the first occasion, President Warren G. Harding delivered the radium himself to Curie (again, with no protection whatsoever). The second occasion was even more unique. Curie arrived in America two days after the stock market crash that caused The Great Depression. Despite that, President Herbert Hoover still took the time to sit down and meet with the esteemed French scientist.

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