HerStory January 2018: Marie Curie

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We are feeling downright electrified by our 2018 HerStory line-up. We’ve been scouring the web and our feminist books for the best and the brightest international women of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and we’re starting out with one of the true greats, Marie Curie. We do want to share that, although we have great respect for the women of STEM, we are not necessarily STEM folk ourselves, so we’ll be discussing things we only nebulously understand in these monthly love letters. Do bear with us if we get some of the facts confused…

Born in Warsaw, Poland in 1867 to a family with a strong belief in the importance and power of education and a defiantly pro-Polish-independence-from-Russia-bent, Marie Curie moved to Paris as a young woman to further her educational career. Her pre-Paris life involved family, schooling, and a bit of resistance; at that time, Poland was a country divided. Her native Warsaw was under control of the Russians, and after making some noise there, she felt the need to leave Warsaw for Austrian-controlled (and friendlier-to-the-Polish-independence-cause) Cracow.

After moving to Paris, where she ended up spending much of the rest of her adult life, she enrolled in the University of Paris and met Pierre Curie (her future husband and co-conspirator in all things radioactivity). This is where the power couple began the research that led to the winning of her first Nobel Peace Prize, in Physics, which she shared with her husband and Henri Becquerel, who discovered radiation. In the work that led to the couple’s joint 1903 Nobel prize, Marie and Pierre isolated polonium (named after Marie’s beloved Poland) and radium, furthering the scientific community’s understanding of radiation. Her second Nobel Prize was bestowed for Chemistry in 1911, for more work in radioactivity. Marie was one smart and driven cookie.

A scientific pioneer for her entire adult life and career, Marie Curie was the first woman to ever win a Nobel prize, and the first person of any gender to win two. She was also the first female professor at the University of Paris, and the first woman to be entombed at the Pantheon on her own merits. And this was all during the late 1800s and early 1900s, when women all over the world were fighting for the rights to make their marks (not that that’s much different than what’s happening now, but this was the time of the worldwide Women’s Suffrage Movement, so it’s not like Marie entered these situations on equal footing with her male colleagues).

During WW2, Marie focused her energies on ensuring that battlefield doctors had access to safe places to operate on injured soldiers as quickly as possible. She researched the intersection between radiology, anatomy, and auto mechanics (of all things!) to develop mobile radiology units that could easily be deployed to the front lines. These were quickly known as Petites Curies, after her. The saving of the lives of countless French soldiers can be traced back to Marie’s tireless work on this front.

Although the study and practical applications of radiation were the driving force in her life, unfortunately the dangers were neither understood nor really known. She died at the age of 66 from a blood disorder that was later believed to be a direct result of her long-term exposure to radioactive elements.

We chose the most radioactive colors we could think of for our Radioactive Rainbow colorway. It’s eye-searingly bright, in the most delightful way, and if you look closely, you can see glimmers of polonium, and radium, and that spark of whatever it is that Marie had that made her push forward and keep working and strive for the best when the deck seemed to be stacked against her.