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Marie and Pierre Curie

Quick Facts

Him: Pierre Curie, renowned chemist and physicist

Her: Marya Sklodowska, student of chemistry and physics

Setting: Paris, France around the turn of the 20th century


Background

Marya Sklodowska, called “Marie” in her adopted home of France, moved to Paris from her native Poland in 1891 and met Pierre Curie, head of one of the Sorbonne laboratories Marie worked and studied in. Though she would initially rebuff his advances, the two went on to become possibly the most prolific couple in the history of science.


Story

After showing herself a particularly bright student of natural sciences, Marya Sklodowska left her Polish homeland for one of the most celebrated academies in all of Europe – the Sorbonne – in 1891. Unlike the universities in her native country, the prestigious Parisian institution admitted women into its highest levels. Thus, by a quirk of admission restrictions, the young woman called “Marie” by her French professors would come to meet one of the preeminent scientists of the day, Pierre Curie.

Marie quickly developed a reputation as a hard-working scientist, spending hours each day in the laboratory or library. The two first met in 1894, three years after she arrived and, despite Pierre’s immediate interest, Marie found herself reluctant to let a romance with the lab’s director blossom. Undiscouraged, Pierre put all the more energy into wooing her, proposing marriage several times before she finally agreed.

After marrying in 1895, the two formed one of the most productive scientific partnerships the world has ever seen, discovering two elements in 1898 and sharing a Nobel Prize for Physics with Henri Becquerel in 1903 for their discovery of radioactivity. The two were so taken with the potential for this invisible energy – the commercial possibilities were considered vast at the time – they often carried radium around with them.



Tragically, it would be this attachment to the wonders of science that would lead to their untimely deaths. Unaware of the poisonous effect of long-term exposure to radiation, Pierre would eventually become sick and die in 1906. Continuing on she and her husband’s work, Marie would go on to win a second Nobel Prize in 1911, for chemistry, making her one of only two scientists to have claimed the prize twice in separate fields.

The intense passion shared by the two drove them to scientific heights that would go on to affect the course of human history – for almost three decades after Pierre’s death, Marie worked diligently in the lab to continue their experiments until she passed away from leukemia in 1934.


Reputation

One of the oldest axioms in the corporate world is that you should not date someone you work with but this, of all the famous love stories, is the exception to the rule. From the very start, Marie and Pierre Curie are thrust into a situation where they will be around each other all day, every day – and it led to vast romantic and scientific success.

The impact of their discoveries cannot be underestimated, but the example left behind by their relationship (a love built on shared passions) that may be the most valuable part of their legacy.



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