This is the tomb of Marie Skłodowska–Curie in Panthéon, Paris.
What is unique about this tomb is that it is reinforced with inch-thick lead to protect the public from the radiation that still emanates from her body.
Curie was a French-Polish scientist who won the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics and the 1911 Nobel Prize in chemistry. This makes her the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person to win twice, and the only person to win in two different sciences.
She was able to accomplish all of this despite the fact that she was not allowed to enroll in an institution of higher education because she was a woman. She had to illegally attend a clandestine organization called the “Flying University” in order to further her education.
Curie is most famous for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium and for coining the term “radioactivity”. Unknown to her at the time, Curie was slowly killing herself by carrying tubes of radium in her pockets. She would constantly be studying the radioactive element in her lab and at home, even admiring its glow at night. She died in 1934 due to aplastic anemia.
Last year I wrote a blog on the “Radium Girls” and the impact early experimentation had on those working with it. Marie Curie didn’t know what she was unleashing, but because of her we learned…or have we?
Madam Curie was remarkable in how she accomplished what she did. She was no fluke. She would do what others hadn’t even thought of. And she got the recognition in her lifetime. She was married to famous scientist Pierre Curie.
Both the Curies experienced radium burns, both accidentally and voluntarily, and were exposed to extensive doses of radiation while conducting their research. They experienced radiation sickness and Marie Curie died from radiation-induced aplastic anemia in 1934.
Even now, all their papers from the 1890s, even her cookbooks, are too dangerous to touch. Their laboratory books are kept in special lead boxes and people who want to see them have to wear protective clothing. Most of these items can be found at Bibliothèque nationale de France. Had Pierre Curie not been killed as he was, it is likely that he would have eventually died of the effects of radiation, as did his wife, their daughter Irène, and her husband Frédéric Joliot. A high price to pay for being geniuses.