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Women's History Month: One Woman’s Pursuit of an Education Advances Two Fields of Science for Generations to Come

By Rachelle Kuznicki Zidar, Esq.

Marie Sklodowska, aka “Madam Curie” was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. At the time, Poland was under the control of the Russian Empire which sought to eradicate the language, culture, and history of the Polish people. Both of her parents were teachers, her father a math and physics instructor. Her mother died when she was only 10 years old. Despite being an excellent student, Marie could not attend the male-only University of Warsaw but continued her studies in a series of clandestine classes held in Poland. Determined to advance her education, she left Poland to pursue a degree in France where she earned her Ph.D. and met her husband, Pierre Curie. Following the discovery of radioactivity, Marie and her husband greatly expanded this research, discovering and isolating both radium and polonium, the latter of which was named for Marie’s native Poland. During World War I, Marie served as the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service, helping attend to wounded soldiers with early mobile X-ray units. The influence of her research on subsequent generations of nuclear physicists and chemists is unparalleled. Madam Curie, as she has become to be known, was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the only woman to win two Nobel Prizes in different fields, one in Physics and one in Chemistry.

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