Great Minds

How To Learn Like Marie Curie

Marie Curie was a Polish-French scientist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person to win it twice. This post will give you three tips you can take away from Curie to apply to your own learning and life.
Nasos Papadopoulos

Maria Skłodowska Curie (aka Marie Curie),was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity.

She was the first woman to win the Nobel Prize and the first person to win it twice, which she did in two different sciences…and she’s definitely someone worth learning from!

Marie was born in Warsaw, Poland on 7 November 1867, the fifth and youngest child of well-known teachers Bronisława and Władysław Skłodowski.

When she was just ten, Marie's mother died and she was enrolled in boarding school by her father, before attending a prestigious high school for girls, where she graduated with a gold medal.

Unable to enrol in university because she was a woman, she and her sister Bronisława joined the Flying University, an underground Polish school of higher education that admitted women students.

After working as a tutor for several years and continuing to educate herself, Marie left Poland for France in 1891 and enrolled in the University of Paris to study physics, chemistry, and mathematics.

She studied during the day and tutored at night to earn a living, barely making enough to make ends meet.

But after getting her first degree in physics in 1893 she got her reward by winning a place in the industrial lab of the well known Professor, Gabriel Lippmann.

One year on, she was introduced to Pierre Curie, an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry, and the two quickly fell in love.

In 1895, they were married in a non-religious ceremony in Paris and Marie kept the dark blue outfit she wore instead of a bridal gown, to use in the laboratory for years to come. Talk about killing two birds with one stone!

In Pierre, Marie had found a new love and a partner for life, but also a scientific collaborator she could work with and someone to bounce ideas off.

Through her own research with uranium minerals, Marie developed her theory of radioactivity and discovered two new elements, polonium and radium.

She also found that when exposed to radium, diseased, tumor forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells.

Her work fascinated Pierre so much that he dropped his own research to join her and between 1898 and 1902, the Curies published 32 papers.

In December 1903, the Royal Swedish Academy awarded Pierre and Marie the Nobel Prize in Physics...and she became the first woman to win the prize.

But just 3 years later, tragedy struck when Pierre died in a road accident.

Marie was heartbroken but she continued to look after their two daughters and work harder than ever before…and this work eventually led to further recognition and a second Nobel Prize in 1911, this time in Chemistry.

While she became a French citizen, Marie never lost her sense of Polish identity, teaching her daughters Polish and taking them back for visits.

She made her last trip to Poland in 1934 and died shortly after, aged 66 from an illness caused by her exposure to radiation during her scientific research and her work in field hospitals during WW1.

But her legacy lives on today - the Curie Institutes she founded in Paris and Warsaw still stand and her ground-breaking research has been the foundation for remarkable progress in the fields of Chemistry and Medicine.


3 Lessons You Learn from Marie Curie

Here are 3 lessons you can learn from the great Marie Curie to take your learning to the next level:

1) Don't Seek Perfection. Just Start

"Have no fear of perfection; you'll never reach it."

Marie was an idealist, but she wasn't paralysed by perfectionism. She was determined to be practical and her research with radioactive substances shows she wasn't afraid to get her hands dirty…literally!

So often we’re crippled by perfectionism - we want our first attempt to be our best work - but that's impossible. I've found that when you give yourself permission to be imperfect, you can get on with the real work of doing what you want to do.

2) Progress in Anything Takes Time

"I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy."

While Marie's recognition came as a result of the 4 years of publishing with Pierre between 1898-1902, she was far from an "overnight success" because of the years of studying and research she'd been putting in since her teens.

When we see successful people, whether they're entrepreneurs or artists, we need to remind ourselves that we're seeing the finished article. Everyone starts somewhere and it takes years of work to reach the pinnacle of a field.

So the question is simple - if you want to make an impact on the world - are you willing to do the work and be patient?

3) Don't Be Afraid...Seek to Understand

"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood."

Marie would have been afraid of leaving her native Poland. She would have known that there were risks involved in working with radioactive substances.

And she would have been afraid that the scientific community wouldn't recognise her achievements as a woman. But none of that stopped her.

It's easy to let irrational fears stop you from taking action, but as Marie found, if you go through the fear you’ll get closer to your goals and learn more about yourself and the world around you than you ever would have done otherwise.


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