“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.”  Marie Curie

1885 – Warsaw, Poland. “Papa, it’s not fair,” cried Marie. “I am smarter than all the boys in my class. I graduated at the top of my class, but there is no need to apply to the University of Warsaw; only men are accepted.” Here father, Wladyslaw,, drew her close. He promised that he would teach her.

Marie Sklodowska was born in Warsaw in 1867. Her mother was a headmistress at a private school, and her father was a math and physics teacher. When Marie was 11, her mother died, leaving Wladyslaw to raise four children.

Marie was brilliant like him having graduated from high school at 15. She also shared his loved of mathematics and physics. Marie took a job as a governess, and in the evenings her father tutored her in math, physics and chemistry.

Her job helped raise money so her older sister, Bronya, could attend the University of Paris, one of the few universities in Europe that accepted females. At age 24, Marie enrolled in the University’s College of Sciences physics program after her sister graduated. She was one of only two women in the program.

Marie earned a master’s degree in physics in 1893. She graduated at the top of her class, much to the dismay of her male classmates. After earning a degree in mathematics a year later, Marie met Pierre Curie, a professor at the university with whom she shared a small physics lab. The graduate student and her professor were married the following year.

Pierre was so impressed with Marie’s research that he set aside his work and joined her in researching uranium, an element that radiated energy. The Curie’s research led to the creation of the field of atomic physics. Marie coined the term radioactivity to describe the phenomenon.

In 1898, Marie discovered a new radioactive element, polonium, which she named after her native country. Four years later, she identified a second radioactive element that she named radium. In 1903, in Stockholm, Sweden, the Curies were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics, making Marie the first woman to win the coveted award. A decade later, she received her Ph.D. in physics, the first woman to earn a doctoral degree from the University of Paris.

In 1906, Pierre was tragically killed when he stepped in front of a horse-drawn carriage. Devastated, Marie quit her research career and returned to Warsaw with her two young daughters. Several months later, she changed her mind when she received a letter from the university offering her Pierre’s physics professorship. Marie became the first woman to join the university faculty.

Marie’s experiments on the effects of radiation on human cells led to the establishment of the field of radiation therapy. For this work, she received a second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in chemistry. In 1919, Marie established the Radium Institute in Paris for radiation research. Four years later, she founded the Radium Institute in Warsaw, directed by her sister, Bronya.

Marie served on the faculty at the University of Paris for almost 30 years. She trained her daughter, Irene, to be her assistant, leading her to win a Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. Marie’s legacy extends far beyond scientific discoveries. She paved the way for future generations of women in scientific circles worldwide. Today, a total of 45 women have been awarded the Nobel Prize. Still, Marie Curie is the only woman to receive the prestigious award twice.

Her research on radioactivity not only expanded the understanding of the atom, but it laid the foundation for medical advances like the development of radiation therapy for cancer treatment. After years of repeated exposure to radiation, Marie died from leukemia in 1934 at age 67. The Mother of Radiation and the world’s most famous female scientist is buried next to Pierre at the Pantheon in Paris, the final resting place of France’s greatest minds. Marie Curie is the only woman to be laid to rest there.