Glasgow Celebrates Women’s History Month by Spotlighting Marie Curie


This month, we are honoring the world-altering women who have contributed so much for the improvement of our communities and recognizing their hard work. Because of that, we are honoring Marie Curie, a physicist and chemist whose research changed our view of science forever.

On November 7, 1867, Maria Salomea Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, Poland to Bronisława and Władysław Skłodowski. At the time, Poland was part of the Russian Empire; both of Maria’s parents were involved in Polish uprisings, which resulted in their families losing a lot of their property and fortune. Władysław Skłodowski, Maria’s father, taught mathematics and physics; subjects Maria was very interested in. Maria’s mother, Bronisława, operated a prestigious girls’ boarding school in Warsaw. Bronisława died of tuberculosis, an infectious lung disease, when Maria was ten and her sister Zofia died of typhus, another extremely infectious disease, not long after. 

After graduating from a girls’ secondary school, Maria was unable to enroll in an institution of higher education because she was a woman. She and another sister of hers’ soon got involved with the Flying University, a pro-Poland clandestine institution that admitted female students. She planned to study at a French university, but didn’t have the necessary funds. Maria decided to educate herself, with some help from her father. She completed her studies at the Flying University and began her practical scientific training.

In 1891, Maria (who would soon be known as Marie) left Poland to proceed her studies at the University of Paris, more commonly known as the Sorbonne. In 1893, she was given a degree in physics and earned a second degree a year later in 1894. Maria had started her career as a scientist with an investigation of the magnetic properties, the response a material has when applied to a magnetic field, of different types of steels. That same year, she met Pierre Curie, her future husband. 

Influenced by the two major discoveries of the existence of X-rays and rays resembling X-rays released from uranium salts, Marie chose to explore uranium rays as a potential field of research for a thesis. Marie Curie is famous for her discovery of the elements Polonium (in honor of her native country) and Radium (named after the rays they saw released from the element). She and Pierre would eventually come up with the term “radioactivity”. 

Marie Curie became the first female faculty member of the École Normale Supérieure, a type of publicly funded higher education institution in Paris and was the first woman to win two Nobel Prizes in physics. She died in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region in southeastern France from aplastic anemia, a disease in which the body doesn’t produce a sufficient amount of blood cells. It is believed Marie contracted the disease from long-term exposure to radiation.

Marie Curie is important to our Glasgow community because she displayed perseverance and determination to achieve her goals of becoming a scientist, especially in an era when women were discouraged or banned from pursuing their true academic passions. She was able to find a solution to the obstacles that attempted to prevent her from receiving a top notch education and demonstrated courage that inspires and moves many of Glasgow’s students.

Want to learn more about Marie Curie? Check these out:

The genius of Marie Curie – Shohini Ghose (TED-Ed)