Pierre And Marie Curie

Pierre and Marie Curie
and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium

Marie and Pierre Curie\'s pioneer research was again brought to mind when on 20 April last year, their bodies were taken from their place of burial at Sceaux, just outside Paris, and in a solemn ceremony were laid to rest under the mighty dome of the Panthéon. Marie Curie thus became the first woman to be accorded this mark of honor on her own merit. One woman, Sophie Berthelot, admittedly already rested there but in the capacity of wife of the chemist Marcelin Berthelot (1827-1907).

It was François Mitterrand who, before ending his fourteen-year-long presidency, took this initiative, as he said \'in order to respect the equality of women and men before the law and in reality\' (\'pour respecter enfin....l\'égalité des femmes et des hommes dans le droit comme dans les faits\'). In point of fact - as the press pointed out - this initiative was symbolic three times over. Marie Curie was a woman, she was an immigrant and she had to a high degree helped increase the prestige of France in the scientific world.

At the end of the 19th century, a number of discoveries were made in physics which paved the way for the breakthrough of modern physics and led to the revolutionary technical development that is continually changing our daily lives.

Around 1886, Heinrich Hertz demonstrated experimentally the existence of radio waves. It is said that Hertz only smiled incredulously when anyone predicted that his waves would one day be sent round the earth. Hertz died in 1894 at the early age of 37. In September 1895, Guglielmo Marconi sent the first radio signal over a distance of 1.5 km. In 1901 he spanned the Atlantic. Hertz did not live long enough to experience the far-reaching positive effects of his great discovery, nor of course did he have to see it abused in bad television programs. It is hard to predict the consequences of new discoveries in physics.

On 8 November 1895, Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen at the University of Würzburg, discovered a new kind of radiation which he called X-rays. It could in time be identified as the short-wave, high frequency counterpart of Hertz\'s waves. The ability of the radiation to pass through opaque material that was impenetrable to ordinary light, naturally created a great sensation. Röntgen himself wrote to a friend that initially, he told no one except his wife about what he was doing. People would say, \'Röntgen is out of his mind\'. On 1 January 1896, he mailed his first announcement of the discovery to his colleagues.\' ....und nun ging der Teufel los\' (\'and now the Devil was let loose\') he wrote. His discovery very soon made an impact on practical medicine. In physics it led to a chain of new and sensational findings. When Henri Becquerel was exposing salts of uranium to sunlight to study whether the new radiation could have a connection with luminescence, he found out by chance - thanks to a few days of cloudy weather - that another new type of radiation was being spontaneously emanated without the salts of uranium having to be illuminated - a radiation that could pass through metal foil and darken a photographic plate. The two researchers who were to play a major role in the continued study of this new radiation were Marie and Pierre Curie.

Marie Sklodowska, as she was called before marriage, was born in Warsaw in 1867. Both her parents were teachers who believed deeply in the importance of education. Marie had her first lessons in physics and chemistry from her father. She had a brilliant aptitude for study and a great thirst for knowledge; however, advanced study was not possible for women in Poland. Marie dreamed of being able to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, but this was beyond the means of her family. To solve the problem, Marie and her elder sister, Bronya, came to an arrangement: Marie should go to work as a governess and help her sister with the money she managed to save so that Bronya could study medicine at the Sorbonne. When Bronya had taken her degree she, in her turn, would contribute to the cost of Marie\'s studies.

So it