MARIE CURIE (1867 - 1934)
Marie Curie, or rather Marya Sklodowska, was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867. At the time, the Polish capital was occupied by the Russians, who were seeking to weaken the local élite but nonetheless tolerated the burgeoning of the positivist doctrine advocated by Auguste Comte. Based on the value of experience and scientific reality, and applied to society, it was for many intellectuals the path of progress; it was to leave an indelible mark on Marya. Born into a family of teachers and brought up in an environment marked by a sense of duty and a lack of money, she led the most Spartan of lives. From the premature death of one of her sisters, and later of her mother, she drew the agnosticism that would later bolster her faith in science. As a brilliant and mature student with a rare gift of concentration, Marya harboured the dream of a scientific career, a concept inconceivable for a woman at that time. But lack of funds meant she was forced to become a private tutor. She made huge financial sacrifices so that her sister Bronia could fulfil her wish of studying medicine in Paris, nurturing the hope that the favour might be returned.
And so, in 1891, the shy Marya arrived in Paris. Ambitious and self-taught, she had but one obsession: to learn. She passed a physics degree with flying colours, and went on to sit a mathematics degree. It was then that a Polish friend introduced her to Pierre Curie, a young man, shy and introvert. In 1895, this free-thinker, acknowledged for his work on crystallography and magnetism, became her husband. One year previously, he had written to her saying how nice it would be "to spend life side by side, in the sway of our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream and our scientific dream."