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Marie Curie, the woman who lived five times

Posted by Alberto Bertolazzi on
Marie Curie, la donna che visse cinque volte

Marie was four years old when she made a pact with Bronislawa and with all the women: "we will always help each other, I will always help you". He felt guilty because he had somehow humiliated his sister. Bronislawa was seven years old and very intelligent, but she just couldn't read the book her father had given her. Marie, impatient, had snatched the text from her hand and began to read it fluently. Then he returned the book to his sister, leaving everyone speechless. It was surprise and admiration, but she thought it was disapproval. She apologized and promised to give her sister all the support she needed. This would be the case, mutually, for the rest of their lives. But on the other hand, what did he have to apologize for? Everyone had already understood that the Polish countryside was too narrow for her.

His second life began with his arrival in Paris and the Sorbonne. They were adventurous years. With the help of her husband Pierre Curie, to whom she was linked by a solid laboratory relationship, Marie dedicated days and nights to processing pitchblende - a raw radioactive mineral - until she isolated an element 330 times more active than uranium, which she decided to call polonium. Unfortunately it wasn't the Holy Grail yet. It was at the end of March 1902 that the test tubes lit up with the faint, bluish glow of radium. To extract it, Marie processed tons of pitchblende, melting, filtering, and measuring tirelessly. Thanks to that new element, the history of science would have changed and Marie would have pushed the female world out of the Middle Ages. In 1903 she was the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize.

His third life began the day a policeman knocked on the door of the country house. Pierre, her beloved research colleague, the father of her daughters, had been hit by a carriage in Paris. After his funeral, the professorship of general physics at the Sorbonne was offered to Marie. No woman had ever achieved such a prestigious position in the academic world.

The fourth life had the mustache of Paul Langevin, Marie's colleague in Paris. It was probably not his mustache that bewitched her, perhaps the stimulating environment in which they began to meet had a certain importance, the fact is that Curie and Langevin began a romantic relationship during the first Solvay congress, in 1911. This caused considerable scandal , also because Langevin was married. When, in December of the same year, the Swedish Academy met to award the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, the disappointment of the French colleagues was more than a murmur and the love story had already ended up in the newspapers. The Academy decided to award the prize to Curie anyway, suggesting however that she not show up at the ceremony. Marie made no mistake about the recommendations: she showed up in Stockholm and proudly remembered that no one before - man or woman - had obtained two Nobel Prizes (moreover in two different fields: physics and chemistry). While Langevin faced some duels to defend his own and others' honor, Marie was preparing for her last adventure.

The fifth life began with the outbreak of the First World War and ended in a sanatorium in Haute-Savoie in 1934. During the Great War, Marie experimented with radiography on the battlefields, anticipating one of the most important uses of her discoveries. In the wake of her popularity, Curie became a sort of money magnet: thanks to her, the Institut du Radium, now the Curie Institute, was born and it was possible to raise funds to continue research on radium. The precious material was probably also the cause of the illness that led Marie to her death. When, sixty years later, his body was transferred from the Sceaux cemetery to the Pantheon in Paris, the coffin had to be wrapped in a lead casing to protect the building from possible contamination.

The drawings that accompany this article are by Elisa Bellotti and are taken from the book Io sono Marie Curie by Enrico Lavagno, in which the scientist of Polish origin talks about herself "in the first person", with simple and confidential language, writing a sort of diary autobiographical. At this address it is possible to see the interview conducted by Diana Bertinetti with Elisa Bellotti.

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