Maria Skłodowska-Curie: discoverer of two radioactive elements
The end of the 19th century is coming. It’s not the successful time for Poland. Due to the partitions, it’s divided between Austria, Prussia and Russia. Maria Sklodowska was born in Warsaw, which is located in the area of the Russian Empire, and in which the Russian language is officially spoken. The Polish culture is being killed off, and there are no Polish schools, since their existence is prohibited. Nevertheless, Maria is the best student in the class and at the age of 15, she finishes the secondary school, being awarded with the golden medal. And what is she going to do later? The majority of the girls of her age would think about marriage, but she is dreaming about further education – she would like to become a scientist… But is it possible in the family with 5 children, where only father, Wladyslaw, physics teacher, is alive (Maria’s mother died when she was 11), and with their financial problems? Possibly not, that’s why two sisters – Maria and Bronislawa (called also Bronia) started to give private lessons to the children from rich fami- lies. At that time, Maria comes up with the plan, which is supposed to make the dreams of two sisters come true. She is going to be a governess in the country and she is going to send half of her salary to Bronia. Thanks to that, her sister will be able to study medicine in Paris, and when she finally becomes a physician, she will pay for Maria’s travel and her studies in Paris. We have to bear in mind that at this time women were not allowed to study at the universities in Polish ethnic areas. Did the dreams of the sisters come true? Let’s find it out from our story…
Biographies and historical background
A Primary Sources
Curie, Marie u. Pierre und Becquerel, Henry: Sur une substance nouvelle radio-active, contenue dans la pechblende, in: Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l’Académie des sciences 32, Ausgabe 127 (1898), online available: .
Curie, Marie: Nobel Lecture: Radium and the New Concepts in Chemistry, Stockholm 11.12.1911,online available: .
Curie, Marie: Untersuchungen über die Radioaktiven Substanzen, Paderborn, 1. Aufl. - Nachdr. des Orig. von 1904 [3. unver. Aufl.]. 2012.
B Secondary Sources
Brian, Denis: The Curies. A Biography of the most Controversial Family in Science, Hoboken, NJ 2005.
Byers, Nina/Williams, Gary A: Out of the Shadows. Contributions of Twentieth-Century Women to Physics, Cambridge, UK; New York 2006.
Goldsmith, Barbara: Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie, London 2005.
Leclercq, Bénédicte et. al.: Leçons de Marie Curie, Les Ulis, France 2003.
Rayner-Canham, Marelene F et. al.: A devotion to their science pioneer women of Radioactivity, Philadelphia, Pa.; Montréal 1997, online available:
Redniss, Lauren: Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie ; A Tale of Love & Fallout, New York 2011.
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