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Legacy of Marie Sklodowska-Curie at CCSU

Marie Sklodowska-Curie’s legacy is immense. Born in 1867, in the Russian-occupied part of Warsaw, Poland, she lived to become a woman of many firsts. She broke scientific barriers and became a brilliant female scientist. She was the first female professor at Sorbonne (university in Paris which dates back to the 13th century); the first female Nobel Prize winner; first person to be awarded two Nobel Prizes; and the first female to be buried in the Pantheon (located in the Latin Quarter in Paris – originally built as a church dedicated to St. Genevieve to house her relics but now functions as a secular mausoleum containing the remains of distinguished French citizens) alongside her husband, Pierre Curie.

Guy Crundwell, Ph.D., professor of Chemistry at Central CT State University (CCSU), delivered a lecture on May 10, regarding Curie’s life and legacy, in the Special Collections reading room of the Elihu Burritt Library. The Stanislaus A. Blejwas Endowed Chair of Polish and Polish American Studies presented the lecture and the Embassy of the Republic of Poland in Washington, D.C. prepared a large exhibit (on the main floor of the library) in recognition of the 100th anniversary of Marie Sklodowska-Curie’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry as well as the 90th anniversary of her first visit to the U.S.

Curie became a Polish-French physicist-chemist, famous for her pioneering research on radioactivity. Her parents, Bronislawa and Wladyslaw Sklodowski were both teachers, her father teaching mathematics and physics, both of which Curie would pursue.

“Her father started the ‘ Flying University ’,” said Crundwell, “as they were constantly on the run from the Russians. Marie got her first taste of experimental science through her father.”

In 1891, Curie followed her older sister to study in Paris where she earned her higher degrees and conducted her subsequent scientific work. In 1894, she earned a degree in mathematics at the Sorbonne in Paris and met Pierre Curie who was an instructor there at the School of Physics and Chemistry. It was their mutual interest in magnetism that drew them together. In 1895 they married. She would later become the mother of two daughters, Irene Joliet-Curie and Eve Curie.

Curie’s achievements included a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Although Curie became a French citizen, she never lost her sense of Polish identity. She named the first chemical element she discovered “polonium” in 1898 for her native country. Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes.

“An American journalist convinced her to go to America,” Crundwell said. “It was there she received 20 honorary degrees and raised much money for her institute.”

Curie founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and in Warsaw. Today there is also a Curie Institute of Oncology in Warsaw. Her birthplace in Warsaw’s “New Town” is now home to the Marie Sklodowska-Curie Museum. She died in 1934, at the age of 67, from leukemia which is common for people who suffer from radioactivity.

The Marie Sklodowska-Curie exhibit will continue at CCSU’s Elihu Burritt Library now through May 16.