Marie Curie - Creativity and Science
Marie Curie (1867-1934)
Polish-born French physicist (pictured right c1920), famous for her work on radioactivity which led to:
- radiotherapy for cancer treatment.
The only woman to win two Nobel Prizes for
- physics in 1903 (with her husband, Pierre Curie, pictured
right, and Henri Berquerel)
Why was she so creative?
Marie (pictured right in 1903) graduated top of her physics class at the Sorbonne, one the world’s top
universities in Paris.
She had a
- wonderfully inventive mind.
2. Hard work and determination
She worked incredibly hard and was determined to succeed
“ I never seen what has been done; I only see what remains to be done”, she said.
Marie overcame several problems:
a) male domination
In a male dominated world, it was extremely difficult to make a career in science.
They didn’t want to give her the first Nobel Prize, but Pierre insisted (pictured together around the time they
received the prize).
b) Pierre's death
Pierre was killed by a horse-drawn carriage in 1906.
c) persistent failure and difficulty
She and Pierre spent four years (1898- 1902) finding radium in an old shed, which was:
- filled with horrible gases.
She managed to extract radium from tons of pitchblende (an ore from
which uranium was also extracted).
This was extremely difficult, because the amount of radium was so tiny.
Four years work only produced a decigram of radium!
3. Fun and relaxation
She loved her work and seeing radium for the first time, glowing in the dark, was a
magical moment she never forgot.
Her happiest times were living and working with Pierre, bicycling together in the country and
looking after her children, Irène and Ève (pictured right with
Helped by a nurse and her father-in-law, she managed with great will and determination to:
- make sure her work didn’t harm her children’s development.
Pierre and Marie were a great team, complementing and encouraging each other.
Pierre was a great visionary, whilst Marie turned his dreams into reality with great
skill and determination.
5. Challenging purpose
The usefulness of her research gave her something worthwhile to work for.
Money wasn’t important to her.
She and Pierre (pictured right in their laboratory):
- agreed not to profit from their discovery of radium and refused to patent it.
- freely shared information about radium to achieve their only aim (to
She loved learning but hated fame.
Her motto was
“In science, we must be interested in things, not persons” ..
6. Adventurous risk taker
- loved working on radioactivity (because it was new and exciting, having only just been discovered by
another French scientist, Henri Becquerel, pictured right).
- always chose the difficult option (even though there was a high risk of failure).
- had the “curiosity and daring of an explorer”, her daughter, Ève,
pictured right, said, which is why Marie loved laboratory work.
She was unaware of the dangers of radioactivity and the consequent
leukaemia killed her.
7. Challenged the status quo
She was always prepared to challenge existing knowledge., even if it offended people in
For example, her discoveries about radioactivity were revolutionary and made some scientific
She tested all known chemical substances to find out which of them were radioactive.
Uranium was already known to be so, but her thoroughness discovered two new ones,
radium and polonium.
She read Becquerel’s work on radioactivity carefully to learn as much as possible
9. Lifelong learning
- followed the example of her teacher parents (who loved learning) - Marie is pictured on the left with her
father and two of her sisters in 1890).
- seized every opportunity to improve her knowledge.
- loved science (because it had “great beauty”, she said).
Key quotes on
When radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals...And this is proof that
scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it.
We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves”.
Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.
Key quote on
I never see what has been done; I only see what remains to be done. Nothing in life is to be feared. It is only
to be understood.
Key quote on business
Each of us must work for his own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all
Key quote on
In science, we must be interested in things, not persons
Key quote on
The way of progress is neither swift nor easy.
Key quote on
You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals.