Life On The Job

Marie Curie - nee Sklodowska 1867 - 1934 - Famous Scientist 

Marie Curie










Portrait of Marie Curie (1934).
Source: Smithsonian Institution Archives
Photographer unknown
No known copyright restrictions


Marie Curie Quote
(Source: Nuclear Museum)


Marie Curie nee Marya Salomee Sklodowska (pronounced: (sklaw DAWF skah) was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, part of the Russian Empire (now Poland). She was the daughter of school teachers and dedicated to learning. Marya was the youngest of five children: Zofia (born 1862), Józef (1863), Bronisława (1865), Helena (1866).

Marie Curie's Family
The five Sklodowski children.
From left to right: Zofia died of typhus;
Helena became an educator;
Marie, twice a Nobel laureate;
and Józef and Bronya, physicians.
We all had much facility for intellectual work,” said Marie.
(photo ACJC)

Poland was an occupied and divided country throughout much of Marie Curie’s life. (See the map... the orange part is part of Poland)

When she was four years old one of her older sisters taught her the alphabet, and Marya learned how to read. In fact, she could read better than Bronislawa who had taught her. (Source: Marie Curie)

Marya experienced many tragedies in her life including the death of her eldest sister, Zofia (who died of typhus at 14) and the death of
er mother when she  was only 11.

Russia Ethnic Groups Map before WWI

When she graduated from high school she won a gold medal because she had been such a good student. Her father knew she had worked very hard, and as a reward, she was permitted to spend a whole year in the country with relatives. She enjoyed a marvelous year with her cousins.

She wanted to study when she returned to Warsaw, but there was no money to send her away to University. She and her sister did private tutoring to earn money. Marya told her sister she would work to send her to school, then when Bronislawa became a doctor, she could return the favour. That's what they did.

Marie became a governess to a family in the country and also had an opportunity to teach several peasant children to read and write.

Her sister invited her to come to Paris to live and begin her studies. Marya changed her name to a French name, Marie.

(Source: Marie Curie)


Her family were progressive and committed to the education of women - something that was rare in those times.


"She received a general education in local schools and some scientific training from her father. She became involved in a students' revolutionary organization and found it prudent to leave Warsaw, then in the part of Poland dominated by Russia, for Cracow, which at that time was under Austrian rule. [Her cousin headed a school in Warsaw in which Marya had her first experience of a laboratory. She knew then what she wanted to study, physics and chemistry.]

In 1891, she went to Paris to continue her studies at the Sorbonne where she obtained Licenciateships in Physics and the Mathematical Sciences. [Marie Curie was the first woman to graduate with a degree in Physics at the Sorbonne (a famous French university) in 1893, and received a second degree from the Sorbonne in 1894 in Mathematics. She was the first woman in France to earn a Doctoral Degree.] She met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics in 1894 and in the following year they were married.

She succeeded her husband as Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne, gained her Doctor of Science degree in 1903, and following the tragic death of Pierre Curie in 1906, she took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the first time a woman had held this position. She was also appointed Director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris, founded in 1914." (Source: Nobel Prize in Physics 1903)

Although born in Poland, after coming to France to study Marie was also considered to be a French woman. She studied physics and discovered radioactivity and worked to expand our knowledge of radioactive materials. Her work resulted in the invention of the X-ray machine. She was the first person to ever win two Nobel prizes.

Opportunities & Experiences

When her mother died, her father thought that Marya should have a change of schools and this meant having good physics and Russian literature teachers. She then attended the "floating" university for young Polish women.

When Marie went to Paris, she had the good fortune to study under Gabriel Lippmann, who would win the Nobel Prize for physics in 1908. Another professor, Henri Poincare, was widely known as the greatest mathematician of his time and Marie studied under him.

Meeting Pierre Curie, another physicist who shared her vision. He became her husband and co-worker.

Marie Sklodowska Curie and her husband Pierre Curie experimented together and discovered two radioactive elements, polonium and radium. The discovery of these elements laid the foundation for future discoveries in nuclear physics and chemistry. Marie and Pierre worked four years to acquire a very small quantity of radium in order to prove there really was such an element. In 1903, Pierre and Marie along with Henri Becquerel received the Nobel Prize in physics for their work and their discovery of radioactivity. In 1911 she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in chemistry, for her work in radioactivity. She was the first person ever to win two Nobel Prizes and the only person ever to win Prizes in two sciences.


World War I - Service


“I am resolved to put all my strength at the service of my adopted country, since I cannot do anything for my unfortunate native country just now... --letter from Marie Curie to Paul Langevin, January 1, 1915

When World War 1 broke out, she felt that X-rays would help locate shrapnel and bullets and facilitate surgery. As she thought that it was important not to move patients, she created X-ray vans!

Marie devised advanced courses on radiology and taught doctors new techniques.

The heavy casualties suffered by the French in World War I prompted Marie to participate in the war effort by making public pleas for funds to equip ambulances with radiology equipment. The funding effort was successful, and Marie was elected by the Red Cross to be the official head of its Radiological Service.

With her daughter Irene, Marie devised advanced radiology courses and taught doctors & 150 nurses new techniques for locating foreign objects in the human body.


a petite Curie

This “petite Curie,” which brought X-rays to the Front in World War I, was displayed in Paris in 1998 during the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the discovery of radium

.Marie Curie in Lab
Marie Curie in her chemistry laboratory at the Radium Institute in France, April 1921.
Source: Nationaal Archief of the Netherlands
Photographer unknown
No known copyright restrictions

Marie Curie with daughter Irene
Marie and daughter Irène with X-ray equipment at a military hospital. After training Irène as a radiologist for a year, Curie deemed her daughter capable of directing a battle-front radiological installation on her own.

Marie Curie with Radiology Assistants

At the Radium Institute, Curie trained about 150 women in X-ray technology, including these radiology assistants with her near the front lines.
(Source: Marie Curie & the Science of Radioactivity

Marie Curie - The year 2011 was declared the Year of Marie Curie by France and Poland.


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity (detailed)
her story in brief (with interactive images)

American Institute of Physics

Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Nobel Prize: Marie Curie Biography

Nobel Prize: Marie Curie Biography
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Nobel Prize: Marie Curie

Nobel Prize 1911
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie - Nobel Lecture, December 11, 1911

Nobel Lecture 1911
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie

Marie Curie - Physicist and Scientist
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie & Pierre Curie and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium

Marie and Pierre Curie
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Nuclear Museum (PDF)

Inspired Excellence

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie - Wikipedia

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Maria Curie - Biography

Marie Curie Biography
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Marie Curie for Kids

Marie Curie for kids
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Science Kids - Marie Curie

Science Kids
The genius of Marie Curie - Shoshini Ghose. TEDEd

Marie Curie Documentary (28 mins) 2018

bullet.gif (981 bytes)The Conversation 19 December 2018

The Conversation
bullet.gif (981 bytes)The Conversation 10 November 2020

The Conversation

Marie Curie eTexts - actual writings of Marie Curie (detailed)

Pierre and Marie Curie and G. Bémont's announcement of radium (1898)

“Pierre Curie” by Marie Curie (1923)

Did You Know? 

Marie Curie on Polish Stamp


Marie Curie was the FIRST woman to receive the Nobel Prize. She is the FIRST & ONLY person to receive a SECOND Nobel Prize.

She was the FIRST woman to be a Professor at the Sorbonne in Paris (now the University of Paris)

That her recipe books are so contaminated with radioactivity that they are kept in lead-lined boxes!

Marie died on 4 July 1934, Sallanches, France at 67. Madame Curie died of leukemia (aplastic pernicious anemia), thought to have been brought on by exposure to the high levels of radiation involved in her research. After her death the Radium Institute was rename the Curie Institute in her honor.

The year 2011 was declared the Year of Marie Curie by France and Poland.


bullet.gif (981 bytes)Design a new Australian stamp to commemorate the achievements of Marie Curie

PrimaryPrimary MiddleMiddle

ICT Capability Australian Curriculum General Capability: ICT Capability

Critical & Creative ThinkingAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical & Creative Thinking

Creating a stamp

1. Bring into class as many stamps as possible.

2. Examine the stamps - using a magnifying glass.

3. What can you see? Are there any symbols on the stamps? What information is on each on? Why? Is there any similarity between the stamps?

4. Think of each stamp as an "artifact". What ideas do you have about representing Marie Curie as an Australian Stamp? Write them down.

5. Start creating your stamp - what size, colour, symbols will you put on your stamp? How expensive will be your stamp - 60c?$1?$2?

6. Present your design ideas and the reasons why your stamp should be chosen!

(Adapted from: Get Inspired with Biography Research! Part 3: Design a Stamp)

Showing a stamp creation

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Nuclear Testing in 50s and 60s in Australia - Is there still a fallout?

MiddleMiddle High School Secondary

IndigenousAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures

Personal and social capabilityAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Personal and social capability

1. Read the following material: Reading

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Creative Spirits: Maralinga: How British nuclear tests changed history forever

Creative Spirts

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Australian Map: Nuclear Weapon Test Site

Australian Map

This site contains lots of videos and information to explore.
bullet.gif (981 bytes)Maralinga Class Action

Class Action

bullet.gif (981 bytes) The Conversation: Dig for Secrets: the lesson of Maralinga's Vixen B

the Conversation 26072013
bullet.gif (981 bytes)ABC - 7.30 Report

7.30 Report
bullet.gif (981 bytes)News: No Compensation for Maralinga Nuclear testing victims

News: Maralinga

bullet.gif (981 bytes)Behind the News


For Teachers:

ABC Splash uses this BTN program to create resources for use during and after seeing this video.

bullet.gif (981 bytes)ABC Rural - 55 Years since Maralinga atomic bombs

ABC Rural

A Yankunytjatjara man - Yami Lester's story (audio file and transcript)

bullet.gif (981 bytes)ABC - Verbatim - Yami Lester


Audio file as well as Paul Kelly's Rainy Land

Rainy Land
Paul Kelly's Rainy Land

This is a rainy land
this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Yami Lester
I hear I talk I touch but I am blind
my story comes from darkness
listen to my story now unwind
this is a rainy land

First we heard two big bangs
we thought it was the great snake digging holes
Then we saw the big cloud
then the big black mist began to roll
this is a rainy land

A strangeness on our skin
a soreness in our eyes like weeping fire
a pox upon our skin
a boulder on our backs all our lives
this is a rainy land

this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land

My name is Millipuddy
they captured me and roughly washed me down
then my child stopped kicking
then they took away my man to town
they said do you speak English?
he said
I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so
I know that Jesus loves me I know
because the bible tells me so

This is a rainy land
this is a rainy land
no thunder in our sky
no trees stretching high
but this is a rainy land"
 (Paul Kelly)
bullet.gif (981 bytes)The Australian - Maralinga nuclear tests: Frank Walker shows no end to the fallout - 30 August 2014

The Australian

2.  Frank Walker’s new book Maralinga, The Chilling Expose of Our Secret Nuclear Shame and Betrayal of Our Troops and Country, published by Hachette Australia. (2014)

"For Walker, it is inexcusable that successive Australian and British governments have largely preferred to minimise or avoid taking responsibility for the toxic legacy of the atomic tests left in the landscape itself as well as in the illnesses and damaged genes of the servicemen purposefully exposed to high doses of radiation.

He demonstrates powerfully why, regardless of the context in which the testing took place, the emotional legacy of Maralinga will linger in the Australian psyche, just as do Gallipoli, Bodyline and Singapore. The cost in terms of damage to health, the environment and public trust in government will remain with us for generations to come."
(Source: The Australian)

3. Is there an emotional legacy of Maralinga that will "linger in the Australian psyche just at Gallipoli, Bodyline and Singapore"? Write the pros and cons of this statement.

4. Using the websites above and Storify, develop a story that will show your "take" on Maralinga and its place in Australian History!




bullet.gif (981 bytes)"Radioactive": new Marie Curie biopic inspires, but resonates uneasily for women in Science. A Community of Inquiry.

 High School Secondary

CriticalAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Critical and creative thinking

LiteracyAustralian Curriculum General Capability: Literacy

Ethical Understanding Australian Curriculum General Capability: Ethical Understanding




1. In groups of 3 - 4 students, view the videos (above) - one video per pair.

List the important facts and figures including the Physics and Chemistry innovations from each video. What is the sense or feeling of each of these videos?Share with the other pair in your group.

2. View the movie trailer - "Radioactive" -  Official Trailer Video


(If you get the chance to see "Radioactive" - take it!)

What was your "take" on this movie trailer?

3. Discussion

Discuss within your group and share with another group.

4. Read through, as a group, the article from The Conversation 10 November 2020 Reading

The Conversation


Analyse the article.

5. The author of the article, Merryn McKinnon, Senior lecturer, Australian National University states: "Curie’s story is incredible, without any need for dramatic emphasis or artistic licence. Radioactive, which employs both, does manage to convey her brilliance. It also highlights and reinforces issues affecting women – and other marginalised groups — in science, then and now."

List the issues McKinnon highlights including the title of the article: "new Marie Curie biopic inspires, but resonates uneasily for women in Science."


. Community of Inquiry

6. Using the Community of Inquiry strategy, discuss the issues affecting women and other marginalised groups in Science.




Material sourced from 
Marie Curie and the Science of Radioactivity (detailed) or her story in brief (with interactive images)
Marie & Pierre Curie and the Discovery of Polonium and Radium
Nobel Prize: Marie Curie
Nuclear Museum
Marie Curie

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