Scientist under the microscope: Marie Curie

We Love Science wishes to commemorate an exciting historical scientist – Marie Curie. She’s a well-known figure (she even has a charity shop named after her!) but what exactly did she do?

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Curie was an admirable scientist for many reasons. Not only was she a woman facing great opposition in the male-dominated world of science, her efforts helped save and treat many injured people in the First World War. Curie was the first woman to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the only person to win it twice.

Working with her husband, Pierre, she discovered that when nuclei break down they produce radiations. This means that they are radioactive, a term the Curies coined. They discovered two radioactive elements – polonium and radium.

Following Pierre’s death and during the First World War, Marie worked to develop mobile X-ray units that could be used to diagnose injuries at the battlefront. The International Red Cross made her head of its radiological service and she held training courses for doctors.

During their research, the Curies fell sick and physically exhausted. These effects have been retrospectively diagnosed as symptoms of radiation sickness. They nonetheless persevered, often with raw and inflamed hands caused by handling radioactive material. Curie herself died of prolonged exposure to radiation.

Because of her research into x-rays and the treatment of cancer, the charity Marie Curie Cancer Care was named after them.

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