Marie Curie
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Image Credit: Creative Commons/Victoria KC

In a Poland museum dedicated to the life of Marie Curie, the scientist who discovered radium, there is a plaque with her quote: “It is a short, simple history, lacking great events. I was born in Warsaw, in a professor’s family. I married Pierre Curie and I had two children. My scientific work I did in France.”

Talk about an understatement!

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Even to this day, Curie is the only person to win two Nobel Prizes in two different scientific fields – she won it in physics in 1901 with her husband Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel for their research in radiation. And she was the sole recipient of a Nobel Prize in chemistry, in 1911, for discovering polonium and radium.

That’s not her only claim to fame. She was the first woman to win a Nobel, and she is also part of the only mother-daughter duo to have won the accolade – her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie won her own Nobel Prize in 1935.

After winning awards for her scientific discoveries and research, Curie didn’t rest on her laurels. She got busy being a hero in World War I.

Curie found that soldiers on the front lines were not being treated quickly enough. At the time, city hospitals were the only places with diagnostic equipment, like X-ray machines. Curie felt scientific advancement should be brought to the soldiers rather than vice versa, since it could save a great deal of time and potentially even save lives.

So, she developed mobile radiography units – she outfitted cars with X-ray equipment and generators to power them. Then, she organised a group of women, including her then 17-year-old daughter, to run them. Her vehicles were known as Petites Curies (“Little Curies”). Over time, Curie managed to run 20 mobile radiological vehicles and installed 200 more at field hospitals. In a biography on the scientist, author Robert Reid estimates that Curie’s units helped diagnose over a million wounded soldiers.

So, when Curie said her life “lacked great events”, she was sorely mistaken. Over a hundred years after her Nobel Prize, she is still remembered for her extraordinary mind and sense of humanity.

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