Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum of the Nobel Prize Winner in Warsaw
Updated: Nov 10, 2019
If you are in Warsaw near the Old Town, take a look at 16 Freta Street.
There is a house where Maria Skłodowska-Curie was born in 1867.
The first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, and that's twice as many!
The road to the Nobel Prize was quite difficult.
Maria's mother was a teacher and the owner of a boarding school for girls and her father was a teacher of mathematics and physics. Those were the times when Poland was under partition (until 1918), but the patriotic spirit reigned in the house of the Skłodowski family.
Maria was an exemplary student, knew five languages, was interested in psychology, science and . . . art of drawing.
In Poland, studies were only available to men, the only hope for a talented girl was to go abroad. However, parents could not afford to finance the education of every child, so the first one to study medicine in France went Maria's sister Bronisława.
At that time Maria took up a job as a governess in one of the noble estates. There, in addition to educating the property owners, she also organises a school for rural children, which is risky at the time because it threatens to be sent to Siberia.
There she falls in love with the reciprocity of the son of the owners of the residence, but the parents of the boy do not agree to a wedding that would be perceived as a misalliance.
Maria, humiliated, returns to Warsaw.
If only they knew who this young bride would turn out to be in a few years time. . . Or maybe it was thanks to this that Maria got a chance for a different life?
In Warsaw she begins her adventure with chemistry in a laboratory in the Museum of Industry and Agriculture.
After a dozen or so months her dreams came true - she leaved for the Parisian Sorbonne and started studies at the Faculty of Mathematics and Natural Sciences as one of the few girls at the Faculty of Science.
Initially she was supported by her sister and her husband, then Maria became independent.
Graduates with two diplomas in physics and mathematics she undertook research work.
She met Piotr Curie, a promising French physicist. After a year they were already married, although Maria's decision to leave her homeland and family was difficult. However, she was often coming to Poland, getting involved in many projects.
The Curie couple worked in a rather primitive laboratory, where in 1898 they made a breakthrough discovery of two radioactive elements: polonium and radium. For this discovery in 1903, together with another scientist, H. Becquerel, received the Nobel Prize.
Idyllic ended when Piotr Curie died in a street accident in 1906, leaving Maria with two little daughters.
However, she did not give up, and even though she lost the love of life, she continued to work and took care of her daughters.
She took over the Sorbonne Cathedral after her husband and after a few years became the first female professor of this university.
In 1911 she went to Stockholm to receive the second Nobel Prize in chemistry.
In Paris, she opened the first Radium Institute, a well-equipped medical and research facility. She opened her first radiology laboratory in Poland as well.
She was friends with eminent scholars of those times, including A. Einstein, N. Bohr, E. Rutherford, M. Planck. She was the only woman to participate in the Solvay Conference.
After the outbreak of the First World War she set off to the front with mobile X-ray laboratories. She trained staff how to take and read X-rays. Thanks to it, thousands of soldiers did not lose their arms and legs in shrapnel extraction operations. Unfortunately, it has affected her health. At that time, the negative effects of radioactive rays were not yet known.
After the war she returned to Paris to work in the Radium Institute. After a few years, on her initiative, a twin Radium Institute was established in Warsaw.
In 1934 Maria Curie-Skłodowska was already very ill, but still active. She died of leukemia at a sanatorium in the Alps.
A year later when her daughter Irene was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.
In 1995, her and her husband's ashes were transferred to the Pantheon of Paris.
Maria Skłodowska-Curie is the first and only woman to be honored in this way for her scientific merits and the only person who rests in the Pantheon who is not of French descent.
Recently a film about this extraordinary woman was made, see the trailer of the film Maria Skłodowska-Curie.
And it all started in Warsaw, at 16 Freta Street...
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