On November 7, 1967, when we in the Soviet Union celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Great October Socialist Revolution, it was also exactly 100 years since the birth of Marie Sklodowska-Curie, the outstanding Polish scientist whose discoveries in physics and chemistry began the era of the utilization of atomic energy.
... A man and woman walked home through the dusk of an early Paris evening. They walked slowly, for they were tired. For months they had worked together in a damp, rotting shed, which they called their laboratory. For much of this time the woman had stood stirring a boiling mixture in an enormous pot with an iron rod that was almost as long as she was tall. Her husband had worked hard to measure the end products of the boiling with extremely delicate instruments. The roof of the shed leaked, and there was not enough money to get it fixed.
But now the stirring was over, and so was the very difficult job of crystallizing and isolating the tiny quantities of precious substances obtained in this way. At last the couple, Marie and Pierre Curie, had achieved their goal. So, in spite of their fatigue, they felt excited and their walk passed quickly.
At home Marie went at once to their four-year-old daughter Irene. Marie may have been the greatest woman scientist of her day, but she was a mother too and a very devoted one.
"Irene is asleep," she said to her husband a little later. "Let's go there. I want to see It at night."
They always spoke of It in such a way as if it had a capital letter. They went back to the shed. It seemed less dark than it had been on other nights. Here and there on the shelves there were tiny luminous spots, like fireflies.
Admiring these glowing spots, Pierre said: "At last, Marie. We've waited for so long..." So they stood that night, Marie and Pierre Curie, on the threshold of a new world. They had discovered radium, a new radioactive element that was to bring about a revolution in physics.
In 1903 Marie Sklodowska-Curie presented her work on radioactivity as her doctor's dissertation. It was cne of the most remarkable dissertations in history, for it won her not one, but two Nobel Prizes! In 1903 she and Pierre, together with Henri Becquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their studies of uranium radiations. In 1911 Marie received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for discovering polonium and radium. The second prize went to her alone, for in 1906 Pierre had died tragically in a traffic accident. *
Marie lived to see her story repeated. Her daughter Irene grew into a woman with the same interests as her mother's. She helped to fill the gap left in her mother's life by Pierre's death. From Marie she learned all about radiology and chose science for her career. At twenty-nine she married Frederic Joliot, a brilliant scientist at the Institute of Radium, which her parents had founded. Together the Joliot-Curies carried on the research work that Irene's mother had begun. A dozen years after their marriage, the Joliot-Curries won the Nobel Prize for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. Marie, alas, died on the eve of the award.
Our respect for the two generations of the Curies is all the greater because of their moral courage. Marie and Pierre provided an example of deep dedication to science. Marie, her daughter Irene, and Irene's husband Frederic all died from radiation sickness, the result of long years of work with radioactive substances. Finally, Frederic Joliot-Curie was not only an outstanding scientist, but also an outstanding leader of the progressive movement.
There is no parallel in the records of science to the dynasty of the Curies. The combination of perfect professional collaboration with love, domestic harmony, and dedication to progressive ideals is an inspiration to countless future generations of young scientists...
© 2003 - 2006 Елькин В.И.