Marie Curie Museum in Paris: a woman of science.
The Curie Museum in Paris is the laboratory museum of Marie and Pierre Curie, where they conducted physics and chemistry research from 1900-1930s, particularly in the study of radium and cancer research.
Before the laboratory was built, Marie Curie (1867-1934) and her husband Pierre (1859-1906) had already discovered radium in Paris in 1898. Pierre died in 1906 after being struck by a horse-drawn carriage, and Marie continued the research on her own, with a small team of scientists.
In 1909, the University of Paris and the Pasteur Institute joined to build a large scientific laboratory. At the same time, the educational consortium established special laboratories for Marie Cure from 1911 to 1914. It was called The Radium Institute.
In the Radium Institute, Marie Curie led the Curie Laboratory and Claudius Regaud led the Pasteur Laboratory. Marie noted that ‘radium continously emits invisible radiation, spontaneously gives off heat, and glows in the dark.’ It was seen as an inexhaustible source of energy.
From 1919, Marie and Claudius worked on medical applications of radiation, and its use for medical diagnosis and cancer treatment through radiology (after the discovery of X-rays in 1895 by Wilhelm Rontgen). Marie and Claudius wanted to open a hospital to treat cancer patients. They established the non-profit Curie Foundation in 1921. They did build an outpatient radiography unit to treat patients, but never realized their dream of building a hospital. The radiography unit recorded its first successful treatments in 1925.
Marie Curie worked in the labs until her death in 1934. She died at the age of 66 from aplastic anaemia due to her exposure to radium. Little was known then about the negative consequences of working unprotected with radium over a long period of time. Her original 1902 document, noting the mathematical calculations to determine radium’s atomic mass, is still radioactive. It’s in the current museum-laboratory.
The government opened a fully-operational hospital near her laboratories in 1936, two years after her death, which provides radiotherapy and surgery for cancer patients.
Her oldest daughter Irene (1897-1956), and son-in-law Frederic Joliot (1900-1958), followed in her footsteps and also worked in the Radium Institute. Irene and Frederic received a Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1935 for their work on artificial radioactivity.
Her youngest daughter Eve (1904-2007) lived to 102 years, and was a pianist, war correspondent, special advisor to the secretary-general of NATO, and after she became an American citizen in 1958, she was the director of UNICEF.
Marie Curie’s office and laboratory were decontaminated in 1981 and reconstructed.
The Curie Museum was offiicially opened to the public since 1992. In 1995, the ashes of Marie and Pierre Curie were transferred from the cemetery in Sceaux to the Pantheon in Paris in 1995.
The Museum focuses on four themes: (1) the Curie family of five Nobel Prize winners, (2) radium, (3) the Curie laboratory, and (4) the Curie (cancer) Foundation. There are labs from the 1930s to 1940s on display, with test tubes, microscopes, and lab notes. There is also a resource centre and a small garden with a monument to the Curies.
Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, and the first and only woman to win it twice – in two different sciences – the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 and the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and the first woman to be interred in the Pantheon on her own merits (she was the second interred, and the first was Sophie Berthelot, the wife of Marcellin Berthelot in 1907).
Marie Curie was indeed a woman of science, but not a self-publicist. She wore the same clothes for years, working studiously and living frugally. She did travel to the United States, but only in 1921 to raise money for the cancer hospital. She spent time in her purchased country home in Brunoy, 20 kilometres south-east of Paris, but mostly she stayed in her rental apartment in Paris, overlooking the river Seine at 36 Quai de Béthune on the Île Saint Louis.