Curie by Sarah Dry

Synopsis: Marie Curie made pioneering discoveries in the field of radioactivity and discovered two elements, Radium and Polonium, the latter having acquired new notority over one hundred years after Curie’s discovery, when she named it in honour of her native Poland.

Published: April 2005 | ISBN: 9781904341291

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Marie Curie is surely one of the great pillars of twentieth century science. She was not only the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize in 1903 (at the young age of 36), but she followed this with a second Nobel Prize in 1911. Curie and her husband Pierre were the first to show that radioactivity was an atomic property. Curie fought constantly to be recognised within a male-dominated society. Initially the Nobel committee had considered only awarding the 1903 Nobel Prize to Pierre alone and it was only at Pierre’s insistence that Curie was included. This is tempered by the fact that these studies were initiated by Curie and it was only later that Pierre became involved. One of the most memorable photos included in this book gives some impression of the magnitude of her achievements within society at this time. It shows Curie at the inaugural invitation-only Solvay conference held in Brussels in 1911 where she is the only female among 29 eminent scientists including Einstein, Bohr, Schrodinger and Pauli.

This highly-readable book succinctly follows Marie Curie’s life. From her early childhood in Poland under the oppressive rule of the Russian Tsar, her long and highly productive scientific career, through to her final years eventually succumbing to the effects of long-term exposure to radiation at the age of 67. She made pioneering discoveries in the field of radioactivity, with discovery of two radioactive elements Radium and Polonium (named after her country of origin) and spent the later years of her life pioneering the use of radiation in medicine and many other fields. These hard-won discoveries (taking 3 years to extract one-tenth of a gram of pure radium from several tonnes of ore) were complemented by periods of joy, such as the births of their two daughters Irène and Eve, and tragedy (the untimely death of Pierre when Curie was 39). The final chapters of this book provide a short biography of Curie’s eldest daughter Irène, who followed in her mother’s footsteps and was awarded the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry along with her husband Frédéric Joliot for the synthesis of new radioactive elements. – From 10 Great Books on Women in Science

Publishers Weekly Book Review

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