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Who was Marie Curie?

Marie Curie in about 1920Marie Curie in about 1920Marie Curie (1867–1934) was a scientist at a time when it was unusual for a woman to be a scientist at all. She is remembered today for her work with her husband Pierre Curie on radioactivity. They discovered two radioactive elements: radium and polonium. She also played an important part in developing the use of X-rays, especially during World War I. She was the first woman to win a Nobel prize. She was also the only woman to have won a Nobel Prize in two different fields: physics and chemistry.


Maria Sklodowska at 16 years old Maria Sklodowska at 16 years old

Early life

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska on 7th November 1867, in Warsaw, Poland. She was the youngest of five children. Her parents were teachers and they made sure both their sons and daughters were taught well. When Maria was just 11 years old, her mother died. 

Maria continued to do well at school, but as she grew up she faced the problem of how to go to university. Poland was ruled by Russia at the time, and the Russians made it a rule that the University of Warsaw should not accept women.

Maria and her sister, Bronislawa ("Bronia") decided they would have to go abroad. After a struggle to raise the money, both settled in Paris. Bronia become a doctor and Maria, now Marie, the French version of her name, enrolled at the Sorbonne, Paris's university. 

Marie with her father and sistersMarie with her father and sistersMarie studied physics, chemistry and mathematics at the Sorbonne. Two years later she gained her degree with the highest marks in her class.  

Before Marie went to Paris, she and her sister studied at a secret academy for women in Warsaw. It was called the "floating" university because it kept having to move from one place to another to avoid discovery (women were not allowed to go to university).

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