back to top

    The Polish Nobel laureates series: Maria Skłodowska-Curie

    Maria Skłodowska-Curie was a physicist, chemist and pioneer in the study of radiation. Together with her husband Pierre Curie, she discovered the elements polonium and radium. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and the only woman to win the Nobel Prize twice, and the only person to win the Nobel Prize in two scientific fields. Her husband, was a co-winner of her first Nobel Prize, making them the first-ever married couple to win the Nobel Prize and launching the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes.

    Maria Skłodowska-Curie coined a term of “radioactivity” that was the subject of the first Nobel Prize she won with her husband and Henri Becquerel. 


    Pierre and Marie Curie, (


    After her husband death, Maria Skłodowska-Curie received a second prize in 1911 in chemistry for discovering the new elements polonium (Po) and radium (Ra), isolating pure radium and studying the chemical properties of radioactive elements. Her discoveries have become a breakthrough in the fight against cancer. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

    She was a French citizen but she used both surnames and never lost her sense of Polish identity. She taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland. Moreover, she named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.

    She became one of the most important figures among the scientists. A photograph below presents probably the most formidable gathering of scientists in history – the first Solvay Conference, in 1911, Brussels, Belgium. Most of the scientists in the picture are Nobel laureates.

    Left to right standing: Victor Goldschmidt, Max Planck, Rubens, Somerfeld, Lindemann, Louis Victor De Broglie, Knudsen, Hasenohrl, Hostelet, Herzen, James Hopwood Jeans, Ernest Rutherford, Heike Kamerlingh-Onnes, Albert Einstein, Paul Langevin. Left to right seated at table: Walther Nernst, Marcel Louis Brillouin, Ernest Solvay, Hendrik Lorentz, Otto Heinrich Warburg, Jean Baptiste Perrin, Wilhelm Wien, Madame Marie Curie, Jules Henri Poincare.



    The Curie legacy is glorified to this day, and without the medical and chemical discoveries of the Nobel Prize-winning couple, many areas of science would not have developed to the state we are used to today. 

    The property in Paris that was frequently visited by Maria Skłodowsa-Curie has been recently bought by Polish billionaire Dominika Kulczyk. She is going to create a charitable foundation called “House of Sisterhood” where exceptional women from all over Europe will have a chance to broaden their knowledge and perhaps follow in Curie’s footsteps and become new Nobelists.




    More in section