Mar

11

Polish physicist and chemist Marie Curie (November 7, 1867 – July 4, 1934), born Maria Sklodowska, might have objected to such homages – for she famously cautioned that “in science, we must be interested in things, not in persons.” And yet it was the person behind the science – driven yet humble, passionate yet pragmatic – that made the mother of radioactivity not only the first woman to win a Nobel Prize but also the only person to date to win a Nobel in two different sciences, physics in 1903 and chemistry in 1911.

With her spirit of creative restlessness, Curie was never one to rest on her laurels, contributing one of history’s most aspirational definitions of science in stating, “One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”

But immersed as she was in her scientific work, Curie was also a woman of uncommon romantic enchantment, with a vibrant love life that included falling in love with a future celebrity-mathematician, the son at the family where she worked as a governess, a bicycle honeymoon with her collaborator and husband, Pierre Curie, and a passionate love affair with physicist Paul Langevin after Pierre’s sudden death in a freak accident.

Still, Curie never compromised her scientific pursuits. Her 1937 biography, written by her daughter Eve, illustrates Curie’s dedication to lab work with a telling anecdote: When the elderly mother of Marie’s brother-in-law proposed to buy her a wedding dress for her marriage to Pierre in July 1895, Curie instructed:

I have no dress except the one I wear every day. If you are going to be kind enough to give me one, please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory.

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