Showing posts with label Biography. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Biography. Show all posts

Five Interesting Facts About George Gamow

george gamow biography physics cosmology

George Gamow (1904–1968) was an all-rounder in true sense of the word. He made contributions to many branches of physics as well as to the field of biology. Gamow was also quite funny and a well-known prankster as we shall see.

College life

Gamow studied under renowned Russian physicist Alexander Friedmann at the University of Leningrad. He made friends with Lev Landau and Matvei Bronstein and the trio came to be referred as the Three Musketeers.

After graduating, he started doing research into the atomic nucleus, which became the basis for his doctorate. From 1928 to 1931 he worked under Ernest Rutherford. In 1932, he built a draft for the first cyclotron in Europe which was completed in 1937.

Important contributions

In 1928, Gamow proposed an explanation for alpha decay of a nucleus by using quantum mechanical principles. He helped build the first cyclotron in Europe, an early version of the particle accelerator, which helped in further studies on radioactivity.

In 1940s, Gamow shifted his attention on cosmology. During this time, he worked with Lemaitre on the Big Bang theory. It was his idea that the early universe was dominated by radiation rather than by matter. He wrote in a paper the presence of background radiation (remnants of the big bang which were later discovered in 1965).

Gamow worked with Francis Crick and James Watson to understand the structures of DNA and RNA. His work played a key role in the formulation of genetic theory.


Gamow earned fame and recognition as a science writer. In 1956, he was awarded the Kalinga Prize by UNESCO for popularizing science with his books. He also sketched many cartoons and illustrations for his books which added quite a dimension to and complemented the text.


George Gamow had all the qualities of a great physics teacher. He conveyed a sense of excitement with the revolution in physics. His doctoral students included Ralph Alpher and Vera Rubin whose significant works were prediction of cosmic microwave background and detection of dark matter, respectively.


George Gamow was full of life much like Feynman never too dull or boring. He possessed an infectious, almost manic enthusiasm in whatever he did. American biologist James Watson described Gamow as card-trick playing, limerick-singing practical joker.

He loved the Greek letters and so much so that he called his wife Rho even though her name actually was Lyubov Vokhmintseva.

His most famous prank was the Alpher–Bethe–Gamow paper. He could not resist adding his colleague Hans Bethe to the list of authors, as a pun on the first three letters of the Greek alphabet: alpha beta gamma.

Who was Gustav Kirchhoff?

gustav kirchhoff biography physics kirchhoff laws

Most high school and engineering students know Gustav Kirchhoff by his namesake circuit laws. But there is more to him than that as we shall see. Gustav Kirchhoff was born on 12 March, 1824 in Prussia (now Germany).

Besides circuit laws, Kirchhoff is known for making pioneering contributions to spectroscopy. With scientist Robert Bunsen, he invented the spectroscope in its modern form. He used it to study the spectrum of the Sun.

In 1859, he showed that the Sun contained sodium apart from Hydrogen and Helium. His spectroscopic work earned him greater fame in his native country. Since 1990, a little over 100 years after his death, the Bunsen–Kirchhoff Award has been given for outstanding achievements in spectroscopy.

Now coming back to electricity. You will be amazed to know that Kirchhoff was only a student when he formulated the two circuit laws in 1845. It later became his doctoral dissertation as well. The two laws are as follows:

  1. The algebraic sum of currents meeting at a point is zero.
  2. The directed sum of the voltages around any closed loop is zero.
They can be used to solve many problems in physics and engineering. Let's have a crack at it with a simple example.

Kirchhoff biography physics Kirchhoff law example

Since (i) the sum of currents at a point must be zero and (ii) currents i1 and i2 are incoming (positive) and i3 and i4 (negative) are outgoing...therefore: 3+9-5-i3=0. This gives i3=7 amp.

That was current law in its simplest form. But combined with voltage law they can be used to solve very complicated circuits.

Apart from spectroscopy and engineering, Kirchhoff made equally important contribution to the field of thermochemistry. In 1858, he gave a law: The overall enthalpy of the reaction will change if the increase in the enthalpy of products and reactants is different.

In 1860, Kirchhoff coined the term black-body radiation and postulated the existence of a perfect black-body, an object that absorbs all the incoming light and reflects none. His studies were used by Max Planck to formulate the Planck's law in 1900.

Although Kirchhoff has become most widely known for his circuit laws but you can realize now how important his other findings were. To the fields of spectroscopy and thermodynamics. Gustav Kirchhoff was a proper genius.

Famous Physicist Who Took His Life Due To Depression

ludwig boltzmann physics biography

Ludwig Boltzmann was an Austrian physicist and philosopher who did not get the recognition for his work that he deserved. It is that which drove him to deep depression and which ultimately led to his suicide in 1906, aged 62.

However, today, we know Boltzmann as one of the founders of thermodynamics. His work, that is, statistical mechanics, is one of the pillars of modern physics. He is remembered not only for his pioneering contributions but also for his great personality.

As a student

He obtained his doctorate from the University of Vienna in 1866. His thesis was on the kinetic theory of gases, but it was built upon the idea of atoms, the existence of which was not universally accepted at that time.

James Clerk Maxwell at that time was the only person to take Ludwig's theory seriously. He compiled a list of ideas which helped Boltzmann come up with, what is now called, Maxwell–Boltzmann distribution.

maxwell boltzmann distribution ludwig physics

As a teacher

He taught maths and physics at various universities during his lifetime. Name and year of joining are: University of Graz (1869), University of Vienna (1873), University of Munich (1890). His students included the likes of Lise Meitner and Paul Ehrenfest.

But what brought him wider public attention were his lectures on philosophy. The lecture halls were jam-packed and because of their popularity, Boltzmann was also invited for a dinner party by the then Emperor of Austria.

As a husband

In 1872, long before women were allowed to study at Austrian Universities, Ludwig met the love of his life, Henriette von Aigentler. She wanted to become a professor of physics in Graz but her application was rejected.

Unlike his colleagues at the University of Graz, Boltzmann supported Henriette's decision to re-apply and helped her in the same. In 1876, Ludwig and Henriette married and had three daughters and a son.

Work on Entropy

In 1877, Ludwig explained the law of entropy, that all systems will either be in a state of disorder or move towards it, in an equation which is inscribed on his tombstone. His work was viciously attacked by many leading scientists of the time which led ultimately to his suicide in 1906.

ludwig boltzmann equation tombstone

Only Pakistani To Win Nobel Prize For Physics

abdus salam nobel prize physicist pakistan electroweak

Doctor Abdus Salam is the first and only Pakistani, so far, to receive a Nobel Prize in physics. He is also well known for the development of science and technology in his country.

For example: Salam was an advisor to the Ministry of Science in Pakistan from 1960 to 1974. He was the founding director of the Space and Upper Atmosphere Research Commission (SUPARCO).

Salam also played a key role in Pakistan's development of nuclear energy and contributed to the development of their atomic bomb project in 1972. Thus, he was often called the Scientific Father of Pakistan.

However, in 1974, Salam departed from his country, in protest, after the Parliament of Pakistan passed a bill declaring the members of Ahmadiya Muslim community, to which he belonged, non-Muslims.

In 1979, he won the Nobel Prize for physics alongside Sheldon Lee Glashow and Steven Weinberg, for the electroweak unification theory. Thus, after this extraordinary accomplishment, he once again became his nation's hero.

Salam continued to stay in England until his death in 1996. But, his dying wish was to be buried in his beloved nation. It was fulfilled and approximately 30,000 people attended his funeral prayers in Pakistan.


In 1951, he obtained a PhD degree from the Cavendish Laboratory at Cambridge. His doctoral thesis earned him not only popularity and reputation but also an Adams Prize.

Salam then worked on the unification of electromagnetic and weak forces (from 1959 onwards) with Glashow and Weinberg.

In 1966, he proposed a hypothetical particle, when he showed the possible interaction between magnetic monopole and C-violation. He thus formulated the "magnetic photon".

In 1972, he collaborated with Indian-American physicist Jogesh Pati. They developed a theory of everything (GUT) known as the  Pati–Salam model.

7 Facts About Johannes Kepler You Didn't Know

johannes kepler facts astronomy science

Johannes Kepler was a German astronomer who discovered the three laws of planetary motion. Apart from his contributions to astronomy, he is also known to have pioneered the field of optics. In this post, let's read some amazing facts about Kepler and his work.

Early Affliction

He suffered from small pox at a very early age. The disease left him with a weak eyesight. Isn't it wonderful then how he went on to invent eyeglasses for near-eye and far-eye sightedness?

Introduction to Astronomy

Kepler's childhood was worsened by his family's financial troubles. At the age of 6, Johannes had to drop out of school so to earn money for the family. He worked as a waiter in an inn.

In the same year, his mother took him out at night to show him the Great Comet of 1577 which aroused his life-long interest in science and astronomy.

Copernican Supporter

At a time when everyone was against the heliocentric model of the universe, Kepler became its outspoken supporter. He was the first person to defend the Copernican theory from both a scientific and a religious perspective.

Contemporary of Galileo

Galileo was not a great supporter of Kepler's work especially when Kepler had proposed that the Moon had an influence over the water (tides). It would take an understanding by Newton many decades later which would prove Kepler correct and Galileo wrong.

Pioneer of Optics

Kepler made ground-breaking contributions to optics including the formulation of inverse-square law governing the intensity of light; inventing an improved refracting telescope; and correctly explaining the functioning of the human eye.

Helped Newton

His planetary laws went on to help Sir Isaac Newton derive the inverse square law of gravity. Newton had famously acknowledged Kepler's role, in a quote: "If I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giant(s)."

Kepler's Legacy

There is a mountain range in New Zealand named after the famous astronomer. A crater on the Moon is called Kepler's crater. NASA paid tribute to the scientist by naming their exo-planet finding telescope, Kepler.

When Pioneer of Thermodynamics Was Rejected

james prescott joule thermodynamics

Sometimes an idea is so far ahead of the time that when proposed it is met with suspicion and mockery. This happened with English physicist and mathematician James Prescott Joule (1818–1889) when he tried to publish his concept of heat.

Joule was an avid reader and grew up interested particularly in the field of electricity. He and his brother experimented by giving electric shocks to each other. However, a long-time association with his father's brewery business drew him closer to studying the nature of heat.

In 1843, Joule identified heat as a form of energy. This idea was rejected by the Royal Society because at that time heat was considered to be a "material fluid" which flowed from hot to cold body.

Joule's concept posited that heat was not a fluid but rather a "vibration" from one molecule to another. But at that time (1840s) the existence of atoms and molecules was a disputed subject among scientists. Therefore, Joule's visualization of heat was deemed mere fantasy.

Despite initial rejection, Joule tried to demonstrate his idea mechanically in 1845. His experiment involved the use of a falling weight, in which gravity does the mechanical work, to spin a paddle wheel in an insulated barrel of water. The spinning increased the temperature of water.

james prescott joule thermodynamics heat apparatus

Thus, the experiment not only showed that work and energy were equivalent but also that potential energy of the falling weight was getting converted into heat, hence the rise in temperature. So, heat must be a form of energy.

Joule was laughed at in the beginning but he kept on trying, until his idea became common-sense and he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1850.

He went on to work with renowned British physicist William Thomson, aka Lord Kelvin. Together, they developed the absolute temperature scale and published the Joule-Thomson effect, in 1852, a process which has applications in cooling appliances such as refrigerator and air conditioner.

Today, the SI unit of work (and energy) has been named Joule in his honor. He is also widely recognized as one of the founders of thermodynamics as his results led to the formation of the first law.

How Max Born Won Nobel Prize After Getting Suspended

max born quantum mechanics biography

In 1933, when the Nazi Party came to power in Germany, physicist Max Born, who was Jewish, was suspended from professorship at the University of Göttingen. It was a poor decision since under him Göttingen had become one of the world's most promising centres for physics.

Born had spent over 12 years at the University. Here, he developed the matrix mechanics with his assistant Werner Heisenberg. Furthermore, this was the place where he formulated an interpretation of the probability density function, which won him the Nobel Prize, almost 20 years later, in 1954.

Out of job, he accepted an offer from physicist C. V. Raman to go to Bangalore in 1935 where he taught at the Indian Institute of Science. Then, in 1936, he migrated to the University of Edinburgh where he was offered a permanent chair.

Born became a naturalized British citizen in 1939, one year before the second world war broke out in Europe. During this time, he helped as many of his remaining friends and relatives still in Germany get out of the country thus saving them from persecution.

Despite all the bad memories, Gottingen always remained especially close to his heart because it was there that he came under the guidance of the three most renowned mathematicians of the time: Felix Klein, David Hilbert and Hermann Minkowski.

Although Klein didn't approve of Born's particular interest in natural philosophy (physics) he was still impressed by his mathematical prowess. Hilbert especially identified Born's talent and soon hired him as an assistant. Born would often meet Minkowski at Hilbert's house where they would discuss the theory of relativity.

Here, at Gottingen, in 1922, Arnold Sommerfeld sent his student Werner Heisenberg to be Born's assistant. Three years later, they had formulated the matrix interpretation of quantum mechanics. It won Heisenberg his Nobel Prize in physics (1932).

A year later, Heisenberg wrote a letter to Born in which he said how he had delayed in writing to him due to a "bad conscience" that he alone had received the Prize for work done in collaboration. Born, however, did not mind at all as his contribution to quantum mechanics could not be changed by a "wrong decision" from the outside.

But Born would ultimately win the most coveted prize in 1954 after a fruitful career of 50 years. He was 72 years old at the time of winning. He died in 1970 and is buried in the same cemetery as David Hilbert. Born's life thus came full circle. In 2017, Google honored Born with a doodle on their home page.

Nominated 84 Times For Nobel Prize But Never Won

arnold sommerfeld genius facts

If there was anybody close to Einstein's genius, it was his compatriot Arnold Sommerfeld. And despite being 10 years Einstein's senior, Sommerfeld was more supportive of the new quantum theory and made many pioneering contributions to it.

Also, did you know that Sommerfeld served in the military for 9 years before becoming a full-time physics professor? Like that, following are 10 amazing facts from Arnold Sommerfeld's life as a tribute to the most under-appreciated physics brain of the 20th century.

1. Since childhood, Arnold Sommerfeld was a quick learner. He received his PhD in physics when he was only 22 years old.

2. He was among the first to acknowledge the validity of Einstein's relativity. His support helped it propel into more of an "accepted status" in the scientific community.

3. Sommerfeld received 84 nominations across 25 years for Nobel Prize in physics (more than any other physicist) but surprisingly, he never won.

4. Yet, he won many times through those he educated and inspired, including (but not limited to) Heisenberg, Pauli, Debye and Bethe.

5. He was the one who introduced the second and the third quantum numbers. They're important because of their use in determining the electron configuration inside an atom.

6. Einstein once told Sommerfeld: "What I especially admire about you is that you have pounded out of the soil such a large number of young talents."

7. Sommerfeld encouraged collaboration from his students. He would home tutor them or meet at a local café to discuss their doubts after a lecture. His successful teaching career was 32 years long.

8. Sommerfeld was also a traveler who traveled around the world in two years (1928-1929) with major stops in India, China, Japan and the US.

9. He wrote to Einstein shortly after Hitler took to power: "I can assure you that the misuse of the word ‘national’ by our rulers has thoroughly broken me of the habit of national feelings that was so pronounced in my case."

10. Sommerfeld died in 1951 in Munich after getting hit by a truck while he was walking with his grandchildren. He was 82 years old. In 2004, department of theoretical physics at the University of Munich was named after Sommerfeld.

Who Was Jagadish Chandra Bose?

jagadish chandra bose biography facts

There are only a handful of people whose legacy goes on to live for-ever. Indian scientist Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose is one of them, as you shall see. He was born in Bikrampur, present-day Bangladesh, on November 30, 1858. His father was a colleague of reformist Raja Ram Mohan Roy and his mother was a housewife.

Early education

Most of Bose's education was conducted in Calcutta. After graduation in 1879, he wanted to compete for Indian Civil Service examination but his father, Bhagawan Chandra Bose, cancelled that plan. He wanted his son to become a science scholar instead, which was why, he sent Jagadish to London for further training.

Change of Plans

At first, Bose was enrolled at University of London so to become a doctor. However, he had to quit it mid-way because of illness due to the odour in dissection rooms. Therefore, he shifted his attention to natural sciences and earned a general-sciences degree from the University of Cambridge in 1884.

Work with Waves

After returning from England, Bose became a professor of physics at Presidency College, Calcutta. During a November 1894 lecture, he ignited gunpowder and rang a bell at a distance using millimetre long microwaves. He wrote: "The invisible light can easily pass through brick walls, buildings etc. Therefore, messages can be transmitted by means of it without the mediation of wires."

Bose perfected his long-distance communication technique (he invented various microwave components in doing so) but never ever thought of patenting it, unlike his European colleagues, such as Marconi, who himself was developing a telegraphy technique using radio waves.

Fun fact: In 1997, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers (IEEE) named Bose as one of the fathers of radio science.

Plant research

Bose's work with plants was one of a kind. He exposed plants to various stimuli such as microwaves, heat, chemicals, etc. By the help of his own invention, crescograph, a plant movement detector, Bose proved scientifically a parallel between animal and plant tissues. Other striking results were obtained, such as, quivering of injured plants, which Bose interpreted as a power of feeling in plants.


According to his colleagues, Jagadish Chandra Bose was 60 years ahead of time. He was not only remarkable by intellect but also a very progressive human being by character. Furthermore, he was married to renowned feminist and social worker, Abala Bose.

During a conference in 1915, Bose recalled: "In the school, to which I was sent, the son of the Muslim attendant of my father sat on my right side, and the son of a fisherman sat on my left. They were my playmates. When I returned home from school accompanied by my school fellows, my mother welcomed and fed all of us without discrimination. Although she was an orthodox old-fashioned lady."

Bose grew up worshipping science and scientific method. He believed agnosticism to be the real essence of science and scientific method. A man shall not say he knows or believes that which he has "no scientific grounds" for professing to know or believe. Bose laid the foundations of "Basu Bigyan Mandir" (Bose Institute) in Kolkata, West Bengal.

He said: I dedicate today this Institute, not merely a Laboratory but a Temple. The power of physical methods applies to the establishment of that truth which can be realized directly through our senses, or through the vast expansion of the perceptive range by means of artificially created organs.


According to physicist Satyendra Nath Bose, one of the students of Sir J.C. Bose at Presidency College, he was a brilliant teacher whose classes were visually appealing and interactive in style.

But, as a researcher, he faced racial discrimination at the University, because the British Empire continued to assert its control over Indian educational institutions. Bose was denied entry into the laboratories and his funding was often cut short.

Despite it all, J.C. Bose remained a devoted professor there for more than 30 years. In 1917, he established his own research institute and served as its director until his death in 1937.

Summing up

J.C. Bose is a celebrated figure not only for his groundbreaking discoveries and inventions in science but also for his work as an educator. His life's mission was to discourage brain-drain by providing competent research facilities in the country itself. Today, J.C. Bose is remembered as the founder of modern scientific research in India.

Who Was Lise Meitner?

lise meitner facts physics science chemistry

Lise Meitner was an Austrian-Swedish scientist known for her discoveries of the element protactinium and nuclear fission. She was praised by Albert Einstein as the "German Marie Curie" for her long-time association with both physics and chemistry. In this post, let's take a look at 10 most amazing facts about Lise Meitner.

Collaboration with nephew

Lise Meitner became a role model for her nephew, Otto Robert Frisch, who grew up becoming a physicist himself. Together, they hypothesized that the split of Uranium in two, explained the incredible energy release in "fission", a term Frisch coined.

Her role in World War I

Meitner was known for her compassion and modesty. During the World War I, when the situation required, she served as a nurse for two years. In 1916, she resumed her physics research.

Early education & PhD

Her earliest research work began at age eight, when she kept a notebook of her records underneath her pillow. She attended the University of Vienna at age 23 and became the second woman to receive a doctoral degree in physics in 1905.

Professorship & war

In 1926, Meitner accepted a post at the University of Berlin and became the first woman in Germany to become a full professor of physics. In 1938, at the start of World War II, she had to flee Nazi Germany due to her Jewish heritage.

Help by Bohr

Niels Bohr helped Lise escape Nazi Germany in 1938. She stayed with Niels and his wife, Margrethe Bohr, at their holiday house in Tisvilde, Denmark. Meitner fled to Sweden, where she lived for many years, ultimately becoming a Swedish citizen.

Manhattan Project

When the atomic bomb project was started in 1942, Meitner was offered a key position at Los Alamos Laboratory, but she refused to work on it, saying, "I will have nothing to do with the bomb!"

Dinner with President

Meitner was known all over the world, so much so, that many claimed her the female equivalent of Einstein. She was awarded "Woman of the Year" in 1946 by the National Press Club, Washington and also joined President Truman for dinner.

Chemical elements

In 1917, Meitner discovered a stable isotope of Protactinium along with chemist Otto Hahn. She also has a chemical element named after her, a radioactive synthetic element, called the Meitnerium.

Nobel Prize snub

Meitner was nominated 19 times for Chemistry Nobel Prize and 29 times for Physics Nobel Prize but never got the top honors. Despite that, she was invited to attend the prestigious Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting in 1962.

Critical of friends

She was critical of her friends: Otto Hahn, Max von Laue and Werner Heisenberg, they who participated in Germany's nuclear bomb project. Their association prompted Einstein to write a letter to the-then American president Roosevelt to build a bomb of their own, before the Germans did.

Meitner wrote a letter to the three: "The reason I write this to you is true friendship. You all worked for Nazi Germany and did not even try to resist...What then must the English and Americans be thinking!?" 

After her death in 1968, her nephew Frisch composed the inscription on her gravestone, which read: "Lise Meitner: a physicist who never lost her humanity."

Biography of Madame Curie

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie

A leading figure in the history of sciences, Marie Curie was prohibited from higher education in her native Poland. Many years later, she became the first woman Nobel laureate. She remains the only person to win the most coveted prize in two different sciences. This is her story.


Maria was born in 1867 in Warsaw (Poland) which was then part of the Russian Empire. She was the fifth and youngest child of well-known science professor Władysław Skłodowski. Her mother, Marianna Bronisława operated a reputed boarding school for girls in the big bustling city.

When Maria was seven years old, her eldest sibling died of typhoid and then three years later her mother lost the battle to tuberculosis. At the same time, Władysław was fired from his job due to pro-Polish sentiments and the family eventually lost all the savings.

In the middle of crisis, Władysław decided to join a low-paying teaching job. The Russian authorities at the school banned the usage of laboratory equipment so he brought it home and instructed his children in its use. In this way, Maria was taught to experiment at an early age.


For some years, Maria was home-schooled. But her father recognized her talent for scientific thinking and learning. Therefore, despite economic troubles, she was admitted to a prestigious learning centre for girls. Maria graduated with a gold medal in 1883 aged sixteen.

She was unable to join any regular institution of higher education because she was a woman. Her father then suggested to join the "secret flying university" a Polish patriotic institution (often in conflict with the governing Russian Empire) which welcomed women students.

During this time, she fell in love with a young man (who'd later go on to become a prominent Polish mathematician), Kazimierz Żorawski, his name. The two discussed marriage, but Żorawski’s parents rejected Marie due to her family's poverty and Kazimierz was unable to oppose them.

Higher education

Maria returned home to her father in Warsaw. The loss of relationship with Żorawski was heartbreaking for her and Władysław was devastated seeing his daughter in pain. Three years later, in 1890, he was able to secure a more lucrative position again and arranged for Maria to reach Paris.

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie
Maria and her father

Maria proceeded her studies of physics and chemistry in the University of Paris where she would be known as Marie. She focused so hard on her studies that she sometimes forgot to eat. In 1893, Marie Skłodowska was awarded a degree in physics at age 26.

In 1894, she began her research career with an investigation of the magnetic properties of various steels. That same year French physicist Pierre Curie entered her life; and it was their mutual interest in natural sciences that drew them together.


Eventually they began to develop feelings for one another and Pierre proposed marriage. Marie returned to Warsaw and told her father that in Pierre, she had found a new love, a partner, and a scientific collaborator on whom she could depend. Władysław agreed.

But she was still living under the illusion that she would be able to work in her chosen field in Poland. Pierre declared that he was ready to move with her to Poland, even if it meant being reduced to teaching French.

Things hadn't changed though as she was denied again because of her gender. A letter from Pierre convinced her to return to Paris and work with him in his small laboratory. In 1895, they were married and for their honeymoon, took a bicycle tour around the French countryside.

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie

The Curies also got going with their research work in a converted shed (formerly a medical school dissecting room) which was poorly ventilated and not even waterproof. But they were very dedicated scientists and hardly discouraged by such problems.


In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts spontaneously emitted a penetrating radiation that could be registered on a photographic plate. Marie was intrigued by this new phenomenon (she coined the term radioactivity) and decided to look into it.

She hypothesized that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction of molecules but must come from the atom itself. She began studying two uranium minerals, pitchblende and torbernite, and discovered that both pitchblende and torbenite were far more active than uranium itself.

Marie concluded that the two minerals must contain small quantities of radioactive substances other than uranium. In 1898, the couple announced their discovery of Polonium and Radium, elements previously unknown, which were far more active than uranium.

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie

Four years later in 1902, the husband and wife team was able to separate 0.1 gram of radium chloride from a ton of pitchblende, a remarkable achievement, for which the duo shared the Nobel Prize in physics with Henri Becquerel.

The award money allowed the Curies to hire their first laboratory assistant. However, the Curies still did not have a proper laboratory. Upon Pierre Curie's complaint, the University of Paris relented and agreed to create a new laboratory, but it would not be ready until 1906.

In 1906, walking across a street of Paris in heavy rain, Pierre was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels, causing his skull to fracture. Marie, by then a mother to two beautiful daughters, Irène and Ève, was traumatized by her husband's death.

She continued to work in the new laboratory hoping to reach greater heights in physics and chemistry as a tribute to her husband Pierre. In 1910, she isolated the pure radium metal; and also defined a new unit  of radioactivity called "curie" in the memory of her late husband.

Affair & death

In 1911, Marie was on the front pages of local tabloids as a "foreign home-wrecker" after having an affair with French physicist Paul Langevin, a married man who was estranged from his wife. The news was exploited by her academic opponents, one declaring her "a detestable idiot."

There's no denying that the affair was painful for Langevin’s family, particularly for his wife, Jeanne, but at the time when the news broke out, Marie was giving a lecture in Brussels. And when she returned to Paris, she found an angry crowd outside of her house and had to seek refuge, with her little daughters.

The Swedish Academy of Sciences honored her a second time despite the Langevin Scandal. She was awarded the Prize in Chemistry for isolating radium hence becoming the only person to win Nobel Prize in two different sciences.

A month after accepting her 1911 Nobel Prize, she was hospitalized with depression and a kidney ailment. During her time at the hospital, she received a letter from Einstein, essentially saying, "please ignore the haters." Marie returned to her laboratory after a gap of about 14 months.

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie

From then onwards, it became very difficult to focus on the sciences and even more so during the World War I. Also perhaps because Marie could not forgive herself after the incident. The war ended, and she was invited to Warsaw in a ceremony, laying the foundations of the Radium Institute.

Curie visited Poland for the last time in early 1934 (before the second world war) where she died of aplastic anemia, a condition due to long exposure to radiation. Her final resting place was decided Paris Panthéon alongside her husband Pierre. In 1935, a life-size statue of Maria Skłodowska Curie was established in a Warsaw park facing the Radium Institute.


She used to wear the same dress to laboratory every day, "If you are going to be kind enough to give me one," she instructed regarding a proposed gift for her wedding, "please let it be practical and dark so that I can put it on afterwards to go to the laboratory."

She refrained from patenting the radium-isolation process, so that the scientific community could do their research unhindered. Scientific endeavors were more dear to her than monetary benefits. In fact, she even gave much of her Nobel Prize money to friends, family, students, and research associates.

Biography of Maria Skłodowska Curie

The curies were not religious and Marie was agnostic by choice. Neither wanted a religious service for their marriage ceremony. She wore a dark blue outfit, instead of a bridal gown, which would be worn by her in the lab for years to come. One of the guests quipped, "Skłodowska is Pierre's biggest discovery."

Today, the radium is used to produce radon, a radioactive gas which is used to treat some types of cancer. At the time of their discovery, a new industry began developing, based on radium (as in self-luminous paints for watches), but the Curies did not patent their discovery and benefited little from this increasingly profitable business.

Marie had the strong conviction that her work would provide important benefits for the rest of humanity, "I am one of those who think that the world will draw more good than evil from new discoveries," her passion for science was aroused in her early years, and remained intact until her last breath.

In her final years, she advocated bravely for invoking a scientific approach in the people, "Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less," she would say.
© 2019-2022
made with by vedang