Cartoon from Vanity Fair of Marie and Pierre Curie.

    Marie Curie and the History of Radioactivity

    At a Royal Institution Lecture in London in 1903, Pierre described the amazing properties of radium and the medical tests he had been carrying out on himself. He had tied a piece of radium to his arm for ten hours and then studied the burn-like wound that left a permanent scar. Because of this, Pierre observed the potential of radium in treating cancer.

    In 1903 Marie and Pierre Curie were awarded half the Nobel Prize in Physics 'in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel'.

    Henri Becquerel

    Henri Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with the Curies.

    Pierre was tragically killed in 1906, leaving Marie with two daughters; Irène aged 9 and Eve aged 2. Marie was determined to continue their work. She became the first ever woman professor at the Sorbonne and as well as teaching, she discovered how to isolate radium in metallic form. In 1911 she was awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for the discovery of the elements radium and polonium. This she achieved ‘by the isolation of radium and also from her study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element’.

    During World War One she established a front-line X-ray service in the battlefields of Belgium and France, tirelessly fundraising, training staff and driving the X-ray vans. After the war, along with her research, Marie continued to fund raise, this time for her Institutes and for a hospital and laboratory devoted to radiology. She eventually died in 1934 from the cumulative effects of radiation exposure.

    In April 1995 Marie and Pierre Curie's remains were enshrined in the Pantheon in Paris. Marie Curie is the first woman to be honoured in such a way for her scientific achievements.