Friday, February 27, 2015

Maria Skłodowska-Curie - The Creative Scientist

Maria Skłodowska-Curie was born in Warsaw, Poland on November 7, 1867.  She was one of the greatest scientists of the 20th century. 

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

Maria Skłodowska-Curie let her passion direct her way and she broke through societal norms becoming the FIRST....

  • Woman in Europe to receive her doctorate in science

  • Woman to win a Noble Prize for Physics (in 1903 for the discovery of radio activity)

  • Person to use the term "radioactivity"

  • Person to receive two Nobel Prizes (the second one was in Chemistry for her discovery and isolation of pure radium in 1911)

  • Woman professor and head of Laboratory in Sorbonne University in Paris

  • Mother with a Nobel Prize to raise a daughter who also won a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935
  • Women to be laid to rest under the dome of Pantheon in Paris

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

She managed to do all this keeping in mind:

“Life is not easy for any of us.  But what of it? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves.  We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thinks must be attained” – Maria Curie Skłodowska

Maria Skłodowska-Curie grew up in Poland with her mother and father.  Her Father was a teacher of mathematics and physics; however he got fired by his Russian supervisor for pro-Polish sentiments.  Maria witnessed her family get degraded due to their strong held national pride and Catholic beliefs.  In 1891, Maria moved to France to pursue her studies.  There she met Pierre Curie with whom she shared the love for physics and chemistry.  Their passion for physics and chemistry grew into a love for one another; they saw that together they would be able to be partners and scientific collaborators.  
Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie

Maria and Pierre were both teachers; however, their passion was research.  The school would not sponsor Maria’s research, so she turned a shed that was formally a medical school dissecting room with no ventilation or waterproof ability, into her laboratory.  Maria did not let anything stop her.  Her intrinsic motivation propelled far beyond and adversity she was faced with.  
She said, “One of our pleasured was to enter our workshop at night; then, all around us, we would see the luminous silhouettes of the beakers and capsules that contained our products.” - Maria Skłodowska-Curie This was her love; she saw the great beauty within her work.

Maria studied two uranium minerals, pitchblende and torbernite.  She saw that pitchblende was four times as active as uranium and concluded there must be another substance that was more active then uranium present.  She dedicated most of her time for this study, which was not done before.  This was possible due to her ability of divergent thinking.  She would not force inspiration; she would think of many possibilities and try to see which one works. 

“Her research idea was her own; no one helped her formulate in, and although she took it to her husband for his opinion she clearly established her ownership of it.”- Reid

Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie

During this time many physicists were in a race to publish their finding, as to be the first to discover something.  Maria had this sense of extrinsic motivation to be the first to publish about their findings.  In July1898, Maria and her husband published paper announcing the existence of a new element; polonium.  She named it in honor of her native country Poland.  In December of that same year she published a paper about the existence of radium.  She was thrilled about finally discovering the hidden element.  She knew that there was still work to be done. She said, “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remain to be done." – Maria Skłodowska-Curie

They did not however patent their discovery, and therefore, did not financially benefit from their discovery. She did win a Nobel Prize for it in 1903, and she used the prize money on furthering her research and feeding her passion for it.  In 1910 Maria succeeded in isolation radium for which she won another Nobel Prize in 1911. 

Throughout her life she had two daughters and she devoted herself to her family.
The Graduate Student Cook Book has this quote about her:

“Marie Curie: Overachiever who cooked, cleaned, discovered radium, and raised a Nobel Prize-winning daughter, but who never forgot how to make a good pierogi” – The Graduate Student Cookbook
This quote really encompassed her love for research, family, and Poland. She lived her life as a true women, mother, wife, and scientist.  She also enjoyed conversations with other scientists, one of which was Albert Einstein.
Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Albert Einstein

Maria Skłodowska-Curie and Albert Einstein

Maria was very well known and very humble person, Albert Einstein once said:

“Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the one whom fame has not corrupted” -Albert Einstein

Maria Skłodowska-Curie
Maria's creativity and ability of divergent thinking allowed her to discover things that other scientist were not able to.  She had a strength that caused her to never give up and to passionately work on her discoveries. She has inspired me greatly, and I know she will continue to inspire many women scientists. 
 “Nothing in life is to be feared.  It is only to be understood.” 
–Maria Skłodowska-Curie

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1 comment:

  1. What an impressive woman! To have so much intrinsic motivation to overcome all that she did and continue on to become so successful requires an unimaginable level of perseverance. And, on top of her career success, she was able to also be humble, and a caring and devoted mom and wife who cooked and cleaned. Wow! Imagine how successful she would be if she lived in a time where women weren't discriminated against.

    Furthermore, discovering new elements, like she did, requires so much creativity, because, naturally, new methods are needed to find new elements. Science is all about innovating and creating. I feel like most people think of scientist and being extremely smart, but not creative.

    Luckily, others recognize the need for creativity in science. There is a non-profit called the Creative Science Foundation, which encourages, promotes, and even financially supports creativity in science, engineering, and business in order to promote innovation. Check them out here:


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