Growing up in Warsaw in Russian-occupied Poland, the young Marie Curie, originally named Maria Sklodowska, was a brilliant student, but she faced some challenging barriers. As a woman, she was barred from pursuing higher education, so in an act of defiance, Marie enrolled in the Floating University, a secret institution that provided clandestine education to Polish youth. By saving money and working as a governess and tutor, she eventually was able to move to Paris to study at the reputed Sorbonne. here, Marie earned both a physics and mathematics degree surviving largely on bread and tea, and sometimes fainting from near starvation.
In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium spontaneously emitted a mysterious X-ray-like radiation that could interact with photographic film. Curie soon found that the element thorium emitted similar radiation. Most importantly, the strength of the radiation depended solely on the element’s quantity, and was not affected by physical or chemical changes. This led her to conclude that radiation was coming from something fundamental within the atoms of each element. The idea was radical and helped to disprove the long-standing model of atoms as indivisible objects. Next, by focusing on a super radioactive ore called pitchblende, the Curies realized that uranium alone couldn’t be creating all the radiation. So, were there other radioactive elements that might be responsible?
In 1898, they reported two new elements, polonium, named for Marie’s native Poland, and radium, the Latin word for ray. They also coined the term radioactivity along the way. By 1902, the Curies had extracted a tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride salt from several tons of pitchblende, an incredible feat at the time. Later that year, Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel were nominated for the Nobel Prize in physics, but Marie was overlooked. Pierre took a stand in support of his wife’s well-earned recognition. And so both of the Curies and Becquerel shared the 1903 Nobel Prize, making Marie Curie the first female Nobel Laureate.
In 1911, she won yet another Nobel, this time in chemistry for her earlier discovery of radium and polonium, and her extraction and analysis of pure radium and its compounds. This made her the first, and to this date, only person to win Nobel Prizes in two different sciences. Professor Curie put her discoveries to work, changing the landscape of medical research and treatments. She opened mobile radiology units during World War I, and investigated radiation’s effects on tumors.
However, these benefits to humanity may have come at a high personal cost. Curie died in 1934 of a bone marrow disease, which many today think was caused by her radiation exposure. Marie Curie’s revolutionary research laid the groundwork for our understanding of physics and chemistry, blazing trails in oncology, technology, medicine, and nuclear physics, to name a few. For good or ill, her discoveries in radiation launched a new era, unearthing some of science’s greatest secrets.
hey everyone!! i’m back from my (unannounced) brief hiatus… spring term was really busy for me, and i’ve spent these first three weeks of summer relaxing, which was very much needed. but, now i’m back and ready to go!!
today i reviewed chemistry and translated some passages of the aeneid in preparation for my ap chemistry and ap latin courses next year. still made time for reading and art though :)
glad to be back, and i hope everyone has a productive and restful summer!! <3
Fun fact: chemistry is pretty much the only thing outside of discussions about gender where ‘cis’ and ‘trans’ are used as whole words as opposed to just prefixes for other words. As a trans chemistry student, this obviously opened up a lot of opportunities for my friends to make puns. I don’t remember who the first to make this joke was, but this comic features a cameo from the rad @zashford because she hasn’t been in this comic yet and she’s definitely made this kind of joke at least once (and she hella cute)
For anyone who is actually curious about the terminology used, the first paragraph here should give you enough, or feel free to message me if you want a full lecture on geometric isomerism
The Four Chemistry Classes You Might Take in College
Because apparently my descriptions of chemistry are apparently amusing to @papalogia
Gen Chem: A mix of “hey I learned this in high school, this ain’t so bad”, “they lied about this in high school but it makes a bit more sense now”, and “I have never seen this before, but let’s roll with it.”
Organic Chem: You hate carbon. You hate bonds. You hate stereochemistry. You may or may not hate reactions, depending on if that makes sense to you. If you can’t imagine molecules, you hate your life.
Inorganic Chem: This isn’t organic! It makes sense! And then you get to Molecular Orbital diagrams and you cry a bit. Or a lot, depending on if you get them right away. Or at all.
Physical Chemistry: The bastard hell child of physics and chemistry. It has no soul, and you will come out of it hating every sentence that contains the words “particle” and “box” together. If your calculus skills aren’t up there, you will cry in frustration. If your calculus skills are up there, you will cry, but it will be out of joy. You may not know what’s going on, but you just solved an equation, so that’s something.