On 19 April 1906, Pierre Curie died suddenly after being run over by a horse and carriage. The following month, Sorbonne University appointed to his wife, Marie Curie, to his physics professorship. She was the first woman to lecture at the Sorbonne.
— Imperial College London (@imperialcollege) November 5, 2021
That summer, Lord Kelvin published a letter to the editor in The London Times “advancing a theory that radium was no element but rather a compound of lead and five helium atoms.” Marie picked up that challenge.
Enlisting the aid of her old colleague André Debierne, she eventually confirmed that radium was indeed an element. It was an effort of years to measure the atomic weight of radium beyond question and thus firmly locate the element in the Periodic Table. But the measurements left nothing in doubt.
In her inaugural lecture on 05 November 1906, she “explained the theory of ions in gases and her treatise on radioactivity to 120 students, public and press.”
In 1903, she became the first woman to receive a Nobel prize. She shared the Nobel Prize for Physics with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel.
After having isolated pure radium, she received the Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1911, becoming the first person to receive two. The United Nations named 2011 the International Year of Chemistry in her honor..
She earned her degree in physics in 1893; in mathematics, 1894.
In 1903, Curie became the first woman in France to earn a PhD in physics. Professors who reviewed her doctoral thesis, which was about radiation, declared that it was the greatest single contribution to science ever written.
She promoted the use of x-rays during World War I. Her “petites Curies” – cars that carried the x-ray equipment – “allow[ed] battlefield surgeons to X-ray wounded soldiers and operate more accurately.”
Both Curies were constantly ill from radiation sickness, and Marie Curie’s death from aplastic anemia in 1934, at age 66, was likely caused by radiation exposure. A few of her books and papers are still so radioactive that they are stored in lead boxes. It seems fitting that Curie left a scientific legacy that is literally untouchable.