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Pioneer of Radiology

Any aspiring female scientist or any scientist for that matter is very well versed with the works of Prof. Marie Sklodowska Curie. She is the only person ever to win a Nobel Prize in two different fields of science – Physics & Chemistry. This remarkable feat has been achieved within a gap of only 5 years and both times they were won in conjunction with her husband but the second time around, unfortunately, her husband had passed away due to which she was the sole winner of the award. Her work in the field of radiology is remarkable and she was a pioneer!

Hailing from a very humble background where she could not even afford to go to school abroad, she made do with whatever resources she had and in the end, she managed to set up a world-class Radium Institute at the University of Paris! Her achievements are not just limited to this but she was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. She oversaw many medical applications of radioactive substances which can be found below.

Physics

In the field of Physics, her fascination with radioactive substances began when Henri Becquerel discovered that Uranium had the ability to penetrate the body as X-rays did but had the ability on doing it on its own. After 15 years of struggle of looking at the substance, she finally managed to figure out that the radioactivity was not dependent on any interaction of the molecules but are coming from the very atom of the element. This led to systematic studies into pitchblende which is a uranium mineral and eventually they managed to isolate Polonium and Radium. When they examined pitchblende, they came to the conclusion that it was more radioactive than Uranium which is why they decided it must have more radioactive materials than originally thought. So, her prize for Physics was more about the discovery of radioactivity rather than its use.

Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie in the year 1904
Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie in the year 1904

Chemistry

Her prize for Chemistry was more about the use of Radium and it came from her extended research on her original discoveries. She further probed the properties of Radium and realized that only when she could purify Radium as a singular pure metal. She encouraged its use in medicine by looking at its use for imaging purposes during World War I and even for the treatment of tumors. After the isolation of the metal, she was also involved in the creation of an international standard for the use of radioactive materials. During World War I, she realized that soldiers need to be operated upon as soon as possible when injured to save lives, and one way to do that is to get exact imaging of the damaged parts of the body. The small radiology units that were used for this purpose were called ‘Little Curies‘!

All in all, it can be said that she pioneered an entire field and now, radioactive substances are being used for so many purposes such as imaging, treatment of tumors, etc. and this will only expand over time. A woman who has faced not only a lack of opportunities, but also bias against women and xenophobia managed to take over the field of science and make her mark in it!

References

Marie Curie Biographical (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1903/marie-curie/facts/

Marie Curie Facts (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/physics/1903/marie-curie/facts/

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