Marie Curie: Glowing in the Darkness

By: Nathan Chandler

Marie Curie was the first woman to accomplish which feat?

Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. That was just one of the many groundbreaking feats she managed during her extraordinary life.

Where was Curie born?

Curie was born in Poland, which in 1867 was still part of the Russian Empire. She studied in Warsaw until the early 1920s, when she moved to Paris.

In the late 19th century, Curie was a solid student with insatiable curiosity. How did her parents view her desire for more education?

Her father was a secondary-school teacher who also studied science. Her mother was a boarding school teacher. Both of them were happy to see Marie pursuing more learning in her young life.

In the 1880s, Curie became involved with the Flying University, which was what?

In the 1880s, most colleges still prohibited female students. The Polish Flying University, however, was a secret college that Curie was lucky enough to join.

Where did Curie meet her eventual husband, Pierre?

Curie was the first woman to earn a Ph.D. from a French university. While she was there, she worked with a man named Pierre, and the two bonded over science and eventually fell in love.

Both Curie and her husband Pierre were astute scientific minds. They were equipped with the latest and greatest in lab equipment.

Two bright minds were trapped in less-than-ideal conditions, with very average facilities and equipment that needed updates. Yet they still managed to generate some of the biggest discoveries in human history.

Both Curie and her husband spent much of their time studying what?

Both Curie and her husband were fascinated by the radioactive properties of certain elements. Their backgrounds in physics propelled many advances with regards to radiation.

As the wife and husband conducted experiments with radiation, what measures did they take to protect themselves?

Radiation was so new and poorly understood that no one realized that personal protection was necessary. Curie carried radioactive samples around the lab and often commented on their curious glow.

Which word did Curie and her husband create?

They created the basis of the ideas behind radioactivity, a word that had never been used in science before. These days, of course, radioactivity is familiar to most people and often conjures up frightful images.

Curie is the only person -- ever -- to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences.

History is strewn with brilliant scientists, few of whom ever win a Nobel Prize. Curie is the only person to win Prizes in not one, but two sciences, physics and chemistry.

How many elements did she discover?

Curie's keen mind helped her to discover two new elements, radium and polonium. Radium was the element that turned Marie and Pierre into celebrities of sorts.

How did Curie's work with radiation change World War I?

Curie helped to design and build mobile X-ray machines, which doctors used to diagnose and treat problems with wounded and sick soldiers. She helped train hundreds of women to use the machines.

In her adult life, what were Curie's views on religion?

She was raised Catholic, but the deaths of her mother and sister in a short time period changed her views. She became much less religious and more agnostic.

What happened after the Curies announced their discovery of radium, a glowing radioactive element?

The mysterious glowing substance fascinated both scientists and the public. A "radium boom" saw its use in untold products, from watches to toothpaste … until people realized it could cause abject health problems.

When the Curies exposed tumorous human cells to radium, what did they observe?

The pair subjected malignancies to radium and were amazed to see the tumors dying off faster than healthy cells. This sort of treatment formed a basis for cancer radiation treatments.

Once the "radium boom" started, why did Curie have difficulty finding more of the element for her studies?

The (rash) corporate rush to use radium in all sorts of products meant the element became exorbitantly expensive. Curie simply couldn’t afford to buy it for further research.

Tragedy struck the Curies in 1906. What happened?

In 1906, her husband was struck and killed by a carriage. Curie was heartbroken but stepped into his shoes to fill a prominent teaching position in Paris.

How did Curie feel about teaching groups of students?

Even after decades of teaching, Curie had awful anxiety with regards to public speaking. But she didn't let her fear stop her from sharing her knowledge. She spent much of her adult life teaching advanced university classes.

Why did Curie try to give her Nobel Prize medals to the government?

During World War I, the French government was desperate for certain metals. She tried to donate her Nobel Prize medals but the authorities wouldn't accept them.

Although she was born and raised in Poland, Curie considered herself to be French.

Curie made many of her life's biggest accomplishments in France. But in her mind, she was always very much Polish.

Curie was ensnared in a salacious sex scandal during her career.

A few years after Pierre's death, Curie became involved with a married man named Paul Langevin, who was estranged from his wife. In a weird coincidence, years later, Curie's grandson married Lanbevin's daughter.

How did French society treat Curie after her relationship with the married Langevin was exposed?

She was accused of all sorts of awful things and branded an adulterer. Many people suspected that she had no real intelligence, meaning it was her late husband who'd really made all of those scientific discoveries.

A journalist convinced Curie to do a speaking tour across the U.S., but the scientist insisted only on what condition?

Curie was humiliated and angered by the way European journalists unearthed and published details about her private life, and she insisted that U.S. papers not mention the scandal. Amazingly, every U.S. paper refrained from publicizing her personal life when she was visiting.

What was the name of the institute that Curie opened in Warsaw in 1932?

To further scientific knowledge about radioactive elements, she opened the Radium Institute in Warsaw. She oversaw a staff of dozens of scientists, whom she treated like family.

During her tour of the United States, which university did NOT give Curie an honorary degree?

Harvard turned up their noses at the opportunity to offer an honorary degree to one of the world's best scientists, in part because she was a woman. Yale, Columbia and other colleges, however, jumped at the chance for a bit of publicity with Curie.

In 1921, Curie was welcome as a superstar celebrity in the United States. What gift did U.S. President Warren Harding give to Curie?

Curie still couldn't afford much radium for her research. The president gave her a gift of 1 gram of radium, which was worth nearly $1.5 million in today's dollars.

As the couple worked with radium, why did Pierre Curie sometimes keep a small vial of the stuff lashed to his arm?

Even the world's most brilliant scientists had no clue just how dangerous radium was to the human body. Pierre was fascinated by the way the radium burned his skin without causing any real pain, so he's sometimes exposed himself to the element out of curiosity.

How did Marie Curie die?

Curie's groundbreaking work exposed her to all sorts of radiation. This eventually triggered aplastic anemia, which killed her. She never really understood how dangerous radiation could be to humans.

What was a "petite Curie"?

The Petite Curie was the name given to the mobile X-ray trucks that Curie helped to develop during World War I. The trucks helped to save many lives and improve the quality of life for those who survived the war.

The Curie family was full of overachievers. What did her daughter do?

Irene Curie was a lot like her mom. She decided to study radioactivity and, along with her husband, was jointly awarded a Nobel Prize in chemistry for their work on radioactive elements.

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Image: Wiki Commons

About This Quiz

Marie Curie was the kind of scientist that comes along just once a generation or perhaps once a century. Her contributions to the world cannot be overstated. How much do you about the woman born Maria Salomea Skłodowska?

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