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Nobel Prizes and Laureates


The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903
Henri Becquerel, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie

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Questions and Answers


Question: When was Marie Curie born?

Answer: Marie Curie was born on 7 November 1867.


Question: When did she die?

Answer: Marie Curie died on 4 July 1934, in Savoy, France. She died of aplastic anaemia, a blood disease that often results from exposure to large amounts of radiation.


Question: Where was she born?

Answer: She was born in Warsaw, now the capital of Poland, but at that time the city belonged to the Russian Empire.


Question: What was her maiden name?

Answer: Her maiden name was Maria Sklodowska. She was also called 'Manya' by her family and friends. She later changed her name to 'Marie' when she moved to Paris, France in later years.


Question: What was her family background?

Answer: Marie had four brothers and sisters. Both her parents were teachers. Her father was a patriot whose views about an independent Poland often made it difficult for him to keep his job. When Marie was 11 years old, her oldest sister died of typhus and her mother of tuberculosis.


Question: What was her educational background?

Answer: Marie finished high school at 15, with the highest honours. She worked as a private tutor for children in Poland before moving to Paris, France at the age of 24 to study mathematics and physics at the Sorbonne. Her goal was to get a teacher's diploma and return to Poland.


Question: Why did she not return to Poland?

Answer: Marie stayed in France after she met a French scientist, Pierre Curie, in the spring of 1894. Pierre was the head of a laboratory at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry. She later married Pierre and they had two daughters, Irène, born in 1897, and Eve, born in 1904. Marie and Pierre worked together in the laboratory, which later resulted in a Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903, making Marie Curie the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize.


Question: What was the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics awarded for?

Answer: Henri Becquerel was awarded half of the prize for his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity. Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded half the prize for their research on the radiation phenomena discovered by Becquerel.


Question: What did Marie Curie discover?

Answer: Marie Curie studied the radiation of all compounds containing the known radioactive elements, including uranium and thorium, which she later discovered was also radioactive. She also found out that:
- you can exactly measure the strength of the radiation from uranium;
- the intensity of the radiation is proportional to the amount of uranium or thorium in the compound - no matter what compound it is;
- the ability to emit radiation does not depend on the arrangement of the atoms in a molecule; it must be linked to the interior of the atom itself - a revolutionary discovery!

When she realized that some uranium and/or thorium compounds had stronger radiation than uranium, she made the following hypothesis: there must be an unknown element in the compound which had a stronger radiation than uranium or thorium. Her work aroused the interest of her husband, Pierre Curie, who stopped his own research on crystals and joined the "detective work" with his wife. And Marie was proven right: in 1898 the Curies discovered two new radioactive elements: radium (named after the Latin word for ray) and polonium (named after Marie's home country, Poland). 


Question: Was she awarded another Nobel Prize?

Answer: Yes, Marie Curie was awarded the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discoveries and studies of the elements radium and polonium. She is the only woman so far, who has been awarded the Nobel Prize twice.


Question: Were there other members of Marie Curie's family who were awarded the Nobel Prize?

Answer: Yes, Marie and Pierre's (who died in an accident in 1906) daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, sharing it with her husband, Frédéric Joliot, for their synthesis of new radioactive elements.


Sources:
Marie and Pierre Curie and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium
(http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/articles/curie/index.html)
Marie Curie - Her Story in Brief (http://www.aip.org/history/curie/brief/index.html)

 

First published 22 January 2008

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