Marie Sklodowska Curie : Service through Science - Page-3

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Marie Curie was awarded Pierre's position at the Sorbonne, becoming the first woman ever to teach there. She continued their work bravely, with great dignity, in spite of a haunting loneliness.

Continued research in radium led Madame Curie to be awarded once again the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. No one else, man or woman, had ever been worthy of receiving this honor twice.

The Institute of Radium opened in 1914. At long last Marie Curie had a real laboratory. But 1914 was the year the Great War broke out.

Instead of concerning herself with the personal suffering the war was to bring to her and her two young daughters, Madame Curie immediately set up and directed services with X-ray equipment. It was a new technology, and she understood how much it could help in the treatment of the wounded. She personally made rounds of all university laboratories and collected usable X-ray equipment. She set up radiological rooms and even radiological cars to go to the front, which she drove herself. The wounded who were examined in her radiological labs throughout the duration of the war totaled more than one million. She attended the wounded herself. Her daughter, Eve, was to say of her, "She had a pleasing tone of voice, light hands, a great deal of patience, and an immense religious respect for human life."

War had an unexpected effect on her. In spite of the terrible suffering she witnessed, she learned how important it is to remain cheerful, realizing that good humor is the hallmark of genuine courage.

After the war, Poland was a free country again. Madame Curie put all her money from the Nobel Prize into war loans. Despite her fame and reputation, she had only her modest salary as a professor to support herself and her family.

As she grew older, Marie Curie became ever more peaceful, serene and wise. Her counsel and direction were sought by students and researchers from around the world. When visiting the United States at the age of 54, she received the warmest of welcomes, as people recognized in her "the scorn for gain, devotion to an intellectual passion, and the desire to serve."

Marie's daughter Eve rendered tribute to her mother's virtues when she said (referring to herself and her sister): "They had received one gift from their mother that they will never be able to appreciate enough: the incomparable benefit of living near an exceptional being-exceptional not only in her genius but in her humanity, her innate refusal of all vulgarity and pettiness. Marie Curie avoided even that most forgivable vanity: she never let herself be cited as an example." And Einstein was to add: "Marie Curie is, of all celebrated beings, the only one whom fame has not corrupted."

Madame Curie's last years of hard work were plagued by an increasing blindness, but she made sure the press never heard about it. Four difficult operations, thick glasses, and great determination allowed her to continue her research, write, drive and work.

A humble, simple soul, devoted to service and the welfare of her fellow human beings, Marie Curie died quietly in her sleep on July 4, 1934. Her sacrifice was complete. Her bone marrow revealed the cause of her death: exposure to radium.

All quotations from Eve Curie, Madame Curie.

References and Recommended Reading

Curie, Eve. Madame Curie. New York: Doubleday, Doran and Company, 1938.

Reid, Robert. Marie Curie. New York: E.P. Dutton & Co., 1993.

Reprinted from Walking With Contemplation