Marie Curie

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Marie Curie or Maria Sklodowska (1867-1934) was a scientist who won Nobel Prizes in both physics (1903) and chemistry (1911).[1]

Early life[edit | edit source]

Marie Curie was born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, Poland, on November 7, 1867.[1] She grew up in Russian-occupied Poland, the daughter of a secondary school teacher who had politically displeased the Russians in control.[2] Both her mother and a sister died within two years of each other. She graduated from school at 15, at the top of her class, but fell ill and spent a year in the countryside recovering.[3]

Curie began her studies in Warsaw and became part of the student activism there, but soon moved to Krakow, then Paris.[1] She continued her studies at the Sorbonne, earning degrees in physics and the mathematical sciences.[1] While studying at the Sorbonne in 1894, she met her eventual husband, Pierre Curie, who was then a professor in the School of Physics.[1]

Illness[edit | edit source]

At age 15, having just graduated top of the class from her school, where she was taught in Russian and Polish was banned, she became ill with "fatigue", and was sent to her Uncle's home to recover in the countryside.[2][3][4]

Collapsed due to fatigue[edit | edit source]

Curie's studies were not affected by the death of her sister Zosia when she was nine, or her mother's death two years after, but on graduating school at 15 she was described as having "collapsed due to fatigue":[2]

She refused to get out of bed and ate little. Instead, she wallowed in a dark room all day. Finally, Wladyslaw became worried about her. He decided to send her to live with relatives in the country. It turned out to be a magnificent decision. She began what would become the happiest, most perfect year of her life... she quickly regained her health and good spirits. She put aside her science books and read novels. She fished and picked wild strawberries with her cousins. They took long hikes, rolled hoops, and played games like tag and shuttlecock.[5]

— Great Scientists (2012

Curie herself wrote that her illness was caused by "the fatigue of growth and study". Her daughter Eve's biography states: "In the course of the mysterious passage called adolescence, while her body was transformed and her face grew finer, Manya [Marie's nickname] suddenly became lazy."[4] Another biography, by a "disinterested observer" states that she a history of anxiety, depression, and other nervous problems starting in her teenage years, and that doctors diagnosed her as suffering a "nervous breakdown."[4]

Break from studying[edit | edit source]

While recovering in the countryside, Marie Curie stopped all studying and intellectual pursuits, even giving up embroidery. It is not clear why, or if this was a result of cognitive dysfunction or concentration problems caused by her illness. She did not see this as negative, so so it may have been a choice rather than a sign of illness.

"I can't believe geometry or algebra ever existed. I have completely forgotten them," she writes,"... aside from an hour's French lesson with a little boy I don't do a thing, positively not a thing — for I have even abandoned the piece of embroidery that I had started... I have no schedule. I get up sometimes at ten o'clock, sometimes at four or five (morning, not evening!). I read no serious books, only harmless and absurd little novels...
Thus, in spite of the diploma conferring on me the dignity and maturity of a person who has finished her studies, I feel incredibly stupid. Sometimes I laugh all by myself, and I contemplate my state of total stupidity with genuine satisfaction."[3]

—Susan Quinn, Marie Curie: A Life

ME/CFS[edit | edit source]

It is possible that Marie Curie suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome, but it has also been suggested that the symptoms were depression, possibly as a result of her mother's and sister's deaths, a "nervous breakdown", or exhaustion.

Career[edit | edit source]

Death[edit | edit source]

Curie died July 4, 1934 in Savoy, France, following a brief illness.[1] She died from aplastic anemia, which may have been a result of leukemia caused by radiation exposure during her research.[6]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 "The Nobel Prize in Physics 1903". Retrieved January 18, 2019.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Dry, Sarah; Seifert, Sabine (2003). Curie. Haus Publishing. ISBN 978-1-904341-29-1.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Quinn, Susan (July 31, 2019). Marie Curie: A Life. Plunkett Lake Press.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Silverstein, Brett; Perlick, Deborah (August 17, 1995). The Cost of Competence: Why Inequality Causes Depression, Eating Disorders, and Illness in Women. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-802344-9.
  5. Mahal, Pustak (2012). Great Scientists. ISBN 978-81-223-1286-7.
  6. Morewitz, Stephen J.; Goldstein, Mark L. (August 20, 2013). Handbook of Forensic Sociology and Psychology. Springer Science & Business Media. ISBN 978-1-4614-7178-3.