Maria Curie was born in Warsaw on the 7th of November, 1867. Her father was a teacher of science and mathematics in a school in the town, and from him little Maria Sklodovska — which was her Polish name — learnt her first lessons in science. Maria wanted to study at the Sorbonne in Paris, and after many years of waiting she finally left her native land for Paris in 1891.
In Paris Maria began a course of hard study and simple living. She determined to work for two Master's degrees — one in physics, the other in mathematics. So she had to work twice as hard as any other student. Yet she did not have enough money to live on, and soon her strength was weakened, because she had no proper food and warmth. She lived in a small room in the poorest part of Paris. Night after night, after her hard day's work at the University she would climb to her poorly furnished room and work at her books for hours. Her meals were poor, sometimes no more than a few cherries, which she ate as she studied. Though she was often weak and ill under this hard life, she worked in this way for four years. Nothing could turn her from the way she had chosen.
Among the many scientists Maria met and worked with in Paris was one — Pierre Curie. Pierre Curie, born in 1859 in Paris, was the son of a doctor, and from his childhood he was interested in science.
At sixteen he was a Bachelor of Science, and he took his Master's degree in physics when he was eighteen. When he met Maria Sklodovska he was thirty-five years old and was already famous in Europe for his discoveries in magnetism. But in spite of the honour he had brought to France by his discoveries, the French Government could only give him a very small salary, and the University of Paris refused him a laboratory of his own for his research work.
Pierre Curie and Maria Sklodovska loved science more than anything else. Very soon they became the closest friends. They always worked together and discussed the many problems of their work. After a little more than a year they fell in love with each other, and in 1895 Maria Sklodovska became Madame Curie.
By this time Maria Curie had got her Master's degree in physics and mathematics, and was busy with research on steel. She now wanted to get a Doctor's degree.
For some time Pierre and Maria Curie were interested in the work of a French scientist named Becquerel. There is a metal called uranium which, as Becquerel discovered, emits rays very much like X-rays. These rays made marks on a photographic plate when it was covered in black paper. The Curies kept wondering about these rays of uranium. There were many questions that puzz:led Maria Curie and her husband. Here, they decided, was the subject for Maria's Doctor's thesis.
The research was carried out under great difficulty. Madame Curie had to use an old store-room at the University as her laboratory — she was refused a better room. Here it was cold, there was np proper apparatus and the room was too small for research work. But Maria Curie had to make the best of it. Soon she discovered that the mysterious rays of uranium were much more peculiar than she believed. They were like no other known rays.
Maria Curie began to examine every known chemical body. After repeating her experiments time after time she found that a mineral called pitchblende emitted much more powerful rays than any she had found.
As Maria Curie had examined every known chemical element and none of them had emitted such powerful rays as pitchblende, she could only decide that this mineral must contain some new element. Here was a mystery. Scientists had said that every element was already known to them. But all Maria Curie's experiments proved one thing. Pitchblende must contain some new and unknown element. There was no other explanation for the powerful rays which it emitted. Scientists call the property of giving out such rays 'radio-activity', and Madame Curie decided to call the new element 'radium', because it was more strongly radio-active than any known metal.
Madame Curie-Sklodovska died in 1934. She was the leading woman scientist, the greatest woman of her time and was the first person who received the Nobel Prize twice.