Lab Cat

28 Feb 2009

My Hero: Marie Curie

Conveniently the topic for the next Scientiae Carnival, Role Models of Women Making History, dovetailed nicely with the next exercise for the Total Leadership process.  I found the examples in the book about Total Leadership hard to follow on from as they were both about family members that had overcome adversity and personal challenges. These stories are very interesting, but while I admire my family greatly and I know they have undertaken personal challenges, to me a hero is someone who has done something beyond every day living.  So I chose Marie Curie.

Teaching chemistry to freshmen undergraduates makes me realize how white male dominated it was especially at the beginning of the twentieth century.  A few women stand out in my mind as having been successes despite the system – Dorothy Hodgkin and Rosalind Franklin are two from the mid to late twentieth century that come to mind.  Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) succeeded as a chemist and physicist at an earlier time than these two and from within the system.  I admire her because she dedicated her life to science to such an extent that she left her home country, Poland, to do research at a better institution in Paris.  This was definitely unusual for women at that time.  When she found her scientific niche, she carried out her research at the highest level winning two Nobel prizes.  Every scientist dreams of winning one, but two is outstanding.

The first Nobel prize was the prize for Physics awarded in 1903 to Marie Curie, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel

“in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel.”

The second, the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, was awarded

“in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element.”

Marie Curie with her daughters

Marie Curie with her daughters

In addition to being a brilliant hardworking scientist she was also a wife and a mother.  Imagine Marie Curie, who discovered radiation, worrying about Pierre having holes in is socks or Irene getting enough fruit to eat*.

I connect to Marie Curie and see her as a role model because she gave her all to science despite the conventions and expectations of women at her time.

*I am sure she had governesses and housekeepers and was probably quite bourgeois, but still she did it.  She could have just stayed at home and done what every other middle class woman of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was doing.


Wikipedia on Marie Curie

Susan Quinn (1995) Marie Curie – A Life, Heinemann, London



  1. I first heard of Marie Curie when I was in high school, and since I don’t have a clear memory of what I thought of her back then, I remember I secretly wished that I would grow up to be like her. To be a scientist. And to make important discoveries.

    Comment by Clarissa — 2 Mar 2009 @ 4:52 am

  2. I think Marie Curie is special in some way to all of us…she is the one you hear about before you hear of any other woman scientist. Her life story is so inspiring, dramatic, tragic, amazing. And she had a daughter who won a Nobel, too!

    Comment by Zuska — 2 Mar 2009 @ 9:29 pm

  3. The above essay is very useful for me. It taught me so much things and i understood how great MARIE CURIE is!!!!!!!!

    Comment by Heidi — 4 Dec 2009 @ 11:31 am

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