“Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood,” said Marie Curie, who, amongst us might be just another name we came across while going through some topic on radioactivity. However, in the world of science and technology Marie Curie is regarded as the mother of innovation. She’s one exceptional mother – mother who had to go through a great deal of labor in pursuit of science education. The era and land to which she belonged did not favor her to attain scientific knowledge rather made it more difficult by inducing social and political pressures all around Poland.
Nevertheless, this demure and dauntless lady travailed through nights, shrouded herself in different locations to study and paved her way to an extraordinary future, earning a Master’s degree in Physics, also in Mathematics following out a PhD in Physics.
Her magnificence lies not in the degrees and doctorates associated with her but how she viewed and accepted life as a challenge must to overcome. “Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that?” these were the notable words of Maria Sklowdowska (Marie Curie). “We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we’re gifted for something, and that this thing, at whatever cost, must be attained.”
The first to win the Noble prize, the first woman to hold a doctorate from French university, the discoverer of Polonium and Radium (along with husband, Pierre) – the one who served during World War I, Marie Curie remains ever an impressive character to me and an inspiration to every women in science and technology. She won the hearts of people not only by her intellectual power but earnestness and humble nature. Her story instills a sense of courage — an attitude of bravery among ambitious women that they don’t have to conform to society’s norms of continuing domestic lives. That women are capable of leading themselves and empowering other women in scientific domains as well.
“There is nothing more wonderful than being a scientist,” she once said. “Nowhere I would rather be than in my lab, staining up my clothes and getting paid to play.”
Her noteworthy contributions in radiology impacted health care sector enormously across the globe. It was the epoch-making discovery of radium by the evangelic Curies (husband wife: Pierre and Marie) that infused ray of hope among helpless and hopeless people as medical world began equipping with groundbreaking technologies. Marie’s immense fight against Cancer continues to this day at Institut Curie, a foundation formed as an extension of Marie’s lab.
“Now is the time to understand more, so that we can fear less” she once said, and it downright reflects through the story of her gallantry that doesn’t end exclusively in laboratory. When the WWI broke out, she offered her services to militia shutting down her foundation and inducted trained technicians to work front lines, women mostly. She was quick to apply her knowledge on radiography and called out for X-ray apparatus to aid wounded soldier in helping doctors diagnose the injuries of bullets and shrapnel and broken bones immediately, affording them instant treatment.
What they say about: “Educating a woman is educating one whole nation” is indeed true. Soon after the remarkable achievements made by this brainy curious lady, many girls developed their interests in science. One such woman was Marguerite Perrey who at the tender age of 19 was recruited as research assistant for Marie Curie at Radium Institute, at which point, she described her first impression of Marie saying that: “Without a sound, someone entered like a shadow. It was a woman dressed entirely in black. She had gray hair, taken up in a bun, and wore thick glasses. She conveyed an impression of extreme frailty and paleness.”
Perrey was deeply influenced by Marie’s brilliance and devotion to work and very much like her she, too, was endowed with phenomenal will power and capabilities that later witnessed in her discovery of Francium. The element Marguerite named after her native land, France.
Spirits were always high, just as passion was keeping along but self-care was a part these people didn’t keep in check at all. As if the burns didn’t hurt Henry Becquerel that he received from the ampul of radium carried in the pocket of his waistcoat. Similar burns were found on Curie’s hands that must have emerged after fiddling with radioactive elements. Not to mention, X-rays widely snatched lives in the wake of 20th century’s new discoveries. People reported hair loss problems, skin-burns and brought up cases of workers who developed cancer in their body tissues. It wasn’t that, they were unaware of the radiation jeopardy or oblivious to the health issues they began facing. They just didn’t allow any of it to become a barrier in their advancement. Hence, death was welcomed and embraced with wide arms opened in all their exuberancy for science.
And, as research work progressed, more and more dreadful news of deaths began hailing from the concerned departments. It turns out, fortune did not favor those audacious souls who in spite of knowing the hazards radiations have on human cells couldn’t protect themselves well enough. And in a matter of time both the mentor and the follower did cost their lives heavily owing to the excessive exposure to radiations. Marie Curie died of leukemia while Marguerite suffered through an awful bone cancer. Both gifted by radiations.
Even their deaths leave me with emotions of love, a kind of romance is felt in their dedication to science. What is awe-inspiring about their science odyssey is the fearlessness to do the right, sheer hard work and the willingness to bring in next milestone even if they’d to make sacrifice in the long run.
And in the end, it is the sacrifices that make our journey meaningful.
There’s something more mesmerizing in Marie’s dignifying personality that renders me in sighs of admiration. Yes! It is the sobriety in her speech. “I was born in Poland,” she summed up her entire life. “I married Pierre Curie, and I have two daughters. I have done my work in France.”
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