Marie Skłodowska Curie as Raw Model for Innovators and Leaders
[ motivation story by Maximilian G. Wolf ]
If you have ever thought of Einstein as the ultimate raw example of genius, you have probably never heard of Maria Sklodowska Curie (1867–1934). Maria came from Poland (Warsaw) to France. Among a huge list of things, she became the first female Nobel prize winner (1903, Chemistry). The first female to receive two Nobel Prizes (2011, Physics), the ONLY person EVER to hold two Nobel Prizes for fundamental sciences. The first female Sorbonne professor, discoverer of radioactivity and Radium and Polonium elements. The founder of Radium Institute, leader of a research group awarded 5 Nobel Prizes, one of a kind wife of Pierre Curie, mother of 3 girls (Irena won a Nobel Prize too), and more.
Her father (Vladislav Sklodowski, high-school professor) could not support her studies in France.
During that time, girls were forbidden from high education in Poland. So, Maria was forced to work as a teacher and support her sister Bronya to go to France first, finish university and provide ground for Manya (Manya was Maria’s nick) in France. Maria (family nick Manya) went to France after a few years by train, traveling in 3rd class, and in some parts of Germany in 5th class.
2. Dragon Women
Of course, Maria was the top student in the class, and finally, in June 1903, Maria was awarded her Ph.D. by Sorbonne. Together with Piere Curie and Henri Becquerel, they were awarded the Nobel Prize in physics.
In 1911, for the discovery of Radium and Polonium, she was awarded by Nobel Prize in chemistry, becoming the first woman awarded two prizes and the ONLY person ever awarded two Nobel Prizes in fundamental sciences.
The second person who won two Nobel Prizes is Linus Pauling , awarded the Nobel and Nobel Peace Prize in Chemistry. I respect Linus Pauling and have no particular respect for the Nobel Peace Prize. Maria’s contribution in that she didn’t want to patent her discoveries to make them available for all humanity was more than enough for the Nobel Peace Prize, not considering her efforts in WWI.
She was the founder of the Radium Institute and radioactivity, creating the foundation for modern radiology and nuclear sciences.
During World War 1 (1914–1918), Maria Curie used her scientific knowledge. With the help of her daughter Irene, who was only 17 years old, she set up radiology medical units near battle lines to allow X-rays of wounded soldiers. By the end of the war, over one million injured soldiers had passed through her radiology units.
Being a woman of Polish origin, her chances of being recognized and awarded in the male society were minimal. Additionally, the community in France was xenophobic. For the non-French roots, people was very challenging to be recognized and rewarded.
If some French man contributed to the science and society half of what Maria did, France and the world would admire him from eternity and back.
The research idea for radium was Maria’s; Pierre was just amazed and wanted to join, while Becquerel was part of political groups that recognized him. Finally, in my personal opinion, the primary stakeholder in this discovery is Maria, with all respect to the Pierre and NO respect to the Becquerel.
Marie Curie, aged 59, at the 1927 Solvay Conference on Electrons and Photons.
An invitation-only meeting of the world’s greatest minds in chemistry and physics. In the front row are Max Planck, Marie Curie, Hendrik Lorentz and Albert Einstein. Martin Knudsen, Lawrence Bragg, Hendrik Kramers, Paul Dirac, and Arthur Compton are in the row behind. All except Knudsen and Kramers are Nobel Prize winners.
The fantastic thing about the picture above is that Maria (Manya) made a more significant contribution to science and society than those famous faces.
A fascinating fact today (2022) is that the scientific community still doesn’t have the strength to admit that modest Polish girl was brighter and better. So I’m looking forward to when man society will give full recognition to Maria (Manya).
Despite Maria’s fame after her Nobel Prize as a scientist working for France, the public’s attitude tended toward xenophobia — the same that had led to the Dreyfus affair–which also fueled false speculation that Maria was Jewish. During the French Academy of Sciences elections, she was criticized by the right-wing press for being a foreigner and an atheist.
In 1911 was revealed that in (1910–1911) Maria had conducted an affair of about one year’s duration with physicist Paul Langevin (a former student of Pierre), a married man who was estranged from his wife. All this resulted in a press scandal that her academic opponents exploited. Maria Curie (then widow in her 40s) was five years older than Langevin and was misrepresented in the tabloids as a foreign Jewish home-wrecker.
4. Famous quotes
“My husband and I were so closely united by our affection and common work that we spent nearly all of our time together.”
“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.”
“Be less curious about people and more curious about ideas.”
“One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done.”
“There are sadistic scientists who hurry to hunt down errors instead of establishing the truth.”
“I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries.”
5. Final remarks
Innovators can learn from Maria Curie how to focus, act, react and follow their ideas and vision. Hard work, passion, and total dedication. During works on Radium and Polonium discovery, Maria personally performed the processing of 20 tons of pitchblende in a cold and dusty improvised laboratory. She insisted that Pierre do measuring and calculations because the electrometer was his invention.
Precise, detailed, and dedicated, she NEVER lost focus on their objectives and visions. The team created and led by Maria in Radium Institute was awarded 5 Nobel prizes (Imagine that five persons on the Forbes list after Elon Musk were tutored by himself).
Suppose there is a person in the history of modern science who contributed so much to science. Forced conservative, xenophobic, male society to give her some recognition, Maria Sklodowska Curie.
She is the real raw model of genius, innovator, scientist, fighter for human rights, wife, mother, daughter, and sister. She did everything just right, just properly, and I’m sure that it was unbearable to all big names in the scientific society of that time to admit that Maria was more straightforward and better.
6. Notes and links
 Article image is from:
 Quotes sources
 Linus Pauling related https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Linus_Pauling#Nobels
 Related books and links
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