Everyone has heard about the famed scientist Marie Curie. But except Polish people, not everyone knows she was born in Warsaw. In Poland, she was known as Maria Skłodowska. As female education wasn’t approved at the time, Marie had to struggle to go through university and to get acceptance from other, mostly male, scientists. There are many intriguing facts that surround the personal life of Marie Curie, that go beyond her scientific discoveries.
Part of her education was illegal
At the time when Marie Curie got her college degree, Poland was still controlled by Russia. It was a rough time for Russian women back then, as it was illegal for them to get any higher education. However, she found a secret college called the Flying University. This university was dedicated to educating women and was regularly shifting to different locations to stay secretive. She later moved to France to continue her studies at the University of France. There she changed her name to Marie and was introduced to her future husband, Pierre Curie.
She worked from a shed
A German scientist, Wilhelm Ostwald described the place where Marie and Pierre worked from as a “cross between a stable and a potato shed.” Thus, when they first invited him to their ‘lab’ he thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t, it was indeed the place where they conducted all of their research, that in the end resulted in the discovery of the Polonium and Radium elements. Many years later, when they got offered to work in modern laboratories, they declined and stayed loyal to their old shack for most of their scientific work.
She wasn’t aware of the dangers of radioactivity
At the time when Marie Curie did her scientific research, little was known about dangerous effects of exposure to radioactivity. Radioactive materials were casually scattered around her laboratory, and she carried the samples of Radium and Polonium in her pockets. Furthermore, she kept a sample of Radium next to her bed, and used it as a night lamp! Thus, it is not surprising that the exposure to radioactivity led to her advanced leukemia, and was the cause of her eventual death. As a matter of fact, her notebooks are still radioactive up to this day, and will stay that way for another 1500 years!
She got an encouragement from Albert Einstein in her toughest times
Marie Curie met Albert Einstein on a science conference in 1911. Einstein grew very fond of her and was quick to help, in her tough times with media and public later that year. At that time, her nomination for a renowned scientific reward from the French Academy of Sciences was rejected. Many believe it was because of her Polish roots and, of course, gender. Furthermore, it was also rumored that she cheated on her husband with her work colleague. Media was quick to accuse her of being a homewrecker and a fraud. When Albert Einstein found out about this, he wrote her a heartful letter of encouragement. You can read the full letter below.
She aided French Soldiers during the World War I
In 1914 France was under a threat of being occupied by Germany. Marie put her research on hold and did her best to aid French soldiers that were wounded in the war. She operated about 20 ambulances and equipped them with a primitive version if an X-Ray machine. She taught young women to use the equipment, and also worked in one of the ambulances herself, despite the danger of being so close to the front lines. It is estimated that her ambulances saved about a million soldiers during the war. French government wanted to award her with a medal of honor, but she politely declined. She even wanted to donate her Nobel Price earnings to French National Bank for war efforts, however, they refused to accept her contribution.