Physics School

Marie Curie Biography and her Work on Radiation

Marie Curie Biography

Marie Curie was a French physicist and chemist who is known today for being associated with the origin of radioactivity and the discovery of radium and polonium. She is a legendary scientist for being the first woman to have won the Nobel Prize in Physics and the first scientist to have won two Nobel Prizes.

When was Marie Curie born?

Maria Skłodowska, who is known today as Marie Curie, was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland.  She was Polish-raised and she was the fifth and youngest child. Her parents were both educators. Her father, Władysław Skłodowski, was a mathematics and physics professor. Her mother, Bronisława Boguska, died of tuberculosis when Maria was still twelve.

Marie Curie's School and University Life

Marie Curie was an intelligent student. In 1883, she finished her secondary education earning a gold medal. She first learned physics from her father. She wanted to learn more but women in Poland were not allowed to enter universities during her time. She wanted to study at the Sarbonne which is the University of Paris but she did not have the means to do so. So she earned a living to help sustain her family by being a tutor and being a governess in well-off families.

In 1891, she moved to Paris in lieu to an arrangement with her sister who had just finished a degree in medicine there and she entered as a physics student at the Sarbonne where she studied physics, chemistry, and mathematics. She devoted herself to her studies. In 1893, she finished first place with her degree in physics. In 1894, she finished second place with her degree in mathematics.

Marie and Pierre Curie and their work on Radioactivity

In 1894, Marie Curie was working on her research project that involved the magnetic properties of metal mixtures when she met Pierre Curie who was associated with the school of Physics and Chemistry. In 1895, she was married to Pierre Curie and the two of them continued studying radioactivity together. Marie Curie was the one who invented the word radioactivity to describe the phenomenon in which elements give off radiation. In July 1898, Pierre and Marie Curie announced their discovery of a radioactive element which they named polonium after Marie’s country Poland. In December 1898, they announced their discovery of another radioactive element which they named radium.

Marie Curie got her doctorate degree in science in 1903 and she, along with her husband Pierre Curie and with Antoine Henry Becquerel, won the Nobel Prize in Physics in the same year for their work on radioactivity.

In 1906, Pierre Curie died and Marie Curie replaced her husband’s professorship at the Sarbonne. In 1908, she became a full professor at the Sarbonne and she was the first woman to have been given this position at the Sarbonne.

Marie Curie became the director of the Institute of Radioactivity which is in Warsaw, Poland in 1911 and she won the Nobel Prize in chemistry in the same year for her work on isolating pure radium. In 1914, she became the first director of the Radium Institute in Paris.

Marie Curie Family Life

Marie Curie had two daughters with Pierre. She died of anemia on July 4, 1934, and her health condition was due to too much exposure to high levels of radiation. The negative health effects of radioactivity were not recognized and known while she was still doing her studies on radioactivity.

Marie Curie’s great work and discoveries in the field of radioactivity makes her one of the most important scientists in physics.

Information on Radiation, Types of Radiation and Side Effects

The discovery of radiation was a progressive history from the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röentgen, through to the discovery of the radioactive nature of uranium by Henri Becquerel, and  the discovery of Marie Curie that only certain elements can emit subatomic particles when their atomic nuclei disintegrate. It was Marie Curie who originated the term radioactivity.

Radiation is the process in which energy is transmitted by a body that is travelling through space. Radiation involves energy travelling from a source linearly in all directions. Ionizing radiation, which usually occurs in radioactive decay, produces ions in matter and ionizes particles. Electromagnetic radiation is a type of ionizing radiation that does not depend in matter when it propagates. Particle radiation is also a type of ionizing radiation if it carries energy as it propagates.

Types of Radiation

Alpha Radiation

Alpha radiation, which is also associated to alpha decay, involves a heavy and short-range particle. It cannot penetrate clothing and the human skin. It can be damaging when open wounds absorb it and when humans inhale or swallow it. It is not externally hazardous and it only travels for a short distance in air. Alpha radiation can be protected by paper or air. The elements that are alpha emitters are uranium, thorium, radium, and radon. The helium nucleus is an alpha particle.

Beta Radiation

Beta radiation, which is also associated to beta decay, involves a light and short-range particle which is an electron. It can penetrate the human skin and it is harmful when taken in. Beta radiation can be protected by clothing and metal. The elements that are beta emitters include tritium, sulfur-35, and carbon-14.

Gamma Radiation

Gamma radiation is a type of electromagnetic radiation and it is the most ionizing among alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. It accompanies alpha and beta radiation. It is also called as penetrating radiation because it is able to penetrate almost all kinds of materials. It requires dense materials to protect from gamma radiation. The elements that are gamma emitters include iodine-131, cobalt-60, and radium-226.

Radiation Side Effects

Radiation causes many negative side effects that range from mild to fatal to the human body. It can cause permanent or temporary hair loss when exposed to radiation by at least 200 rems. It could also damage the brain and cause seizures because it damages nerve cells and blood vessels. Too much intake of it can also damage the thyroid but iodide can be taken in to lessen the amount of exposure. It could also cause heart failure and intestinal tract damage that can lead to bloody vomiting and diarrhea. Too much exposure of radiation could also cause skin cancer and other uncommon medical illnesses and even premature aging. Exposure to radiation by at least 2,000 rems can lead to death. It is recommended that a person should limit exposure to radiation by 100 millirems every year from any source to keep away from the negative health effects that can be caused by too much radiation exposure.

Ionizing Radiation

Radiation is widely used today in medical treatment especially if the ailment involves cancerous tumor. Radiation therapy, which is also interchangeably known as radio therapy and radiation oncology, is a type of ionizing radiation that is used to treat cancer and non-malignant conditions.