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Thursday, 3 July 2014

142) Honouring Marie Curie (nee Maria Sklodowska) (07.11.1867-04.07.1934): A 20 Zloty Banknote issued by Narodowy Bank Polski (National Bank of Poland) on the 100th Anniversary of her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, in 2011:

142) Honouring  Marie Curie (nee Maria Sklodowska) (07.11.1867-04.07.1934):

A 20 Zloty Banknote issued by Narodowy Bank Polski (National Bank of Poland) on the 100th Anniversary of her being awarded the Nobel Prize for Chemistry, in 2011:

In 2011, to commemorate the 100th Anniversary of the Marie Sklodowska – Curie being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, the “Narodowy Bank Polski” (or the “National Bank of Poland”) issued a Collector’s Banknote having a face value of 20 Zlotych. 

A brief about Marie Curie (nee Maria Sklodowska):

She was born Maria Sklodowska in Warsaw, in the Congress Kingdom of Poland, then a part of the Russian Empire, on 07.11.1867 to parents who were both teachers.

She received her early education in local schools and received some scientific training from her father. A brilliant student, she could not attend the “men’s-only” University of Warsaw, instead, she became involved in a student’s revolutionary organisation, and continued her education in Warsaw’s “Floating University”, a set of underground informal classes held in secret.

Both she and her sister Bronislawa (or Bronya) wanted to go abroad to earn an official degree but they were constrained due to lack of financial resources. Maria worked as a tutor and a governess to help Bronya finish her schooling, after which, Bronya returned the favour by working to support Maria’s education. During her spare time, Maria studied Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics, her favourite subjects.

In 1891, Maria left Warsaw and went to Krakow, which at that time was under Austrian Rule and, later, followed her sister to Paris to pursue her studies at the Sorbonne where she got Licentiateships in Physics and the Mathematical Sciences. She always sat in the front row at the courses she attended. Too shy to make new friends, she stayed in the colony populated by Polish nationals which formed a little island of free Poland in the Latin Quarter of Paris.

She concentrated vigorously on her studies alone, at great personal cost, as she had little money to pay for her room, meals, clothes and educational expenses. She even had to tutor students to earn money for her sustenance and education, lived off the money that she had saved while working as a governess in Poland and the small sum of forty roubles a month that her father sent her every month. With about three francs a day at her disposal, she mostly, survived on occasional buttered toast and tea. She never admitted that she was cold and hungry. For her, a feast was having two eggs or a piece of chocolate or some fruit. As a result, she fell sick often due to her poor diet and fainted on some occasions due to hunger.

In 1893, she completed her master’s degree in Physics and got another degree in Mathematics, the following year. At this time, she received a commission to study different types of steel and their magnetic properties.

In 1894, she met Pierre Curie, Professor in the School of Physics and Chemistry (the “Ecole superieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la Paris” or the “ESPCI”) and they got married in 1895. For their honeymoon and  excursions, both Pierre and Marie roamed the countryside on bicycles purchased by them with the money given to them as a wedding present, stopping at non-descript inns and having frugal meals, because they had very little money. A measure of the hardships that they underwent can be gauged by the fact that their small flat was barely furnished with only some books, two chairs and a wooden table and a small stove and some utensils and plates.

Though Pierre did not have a large laboratory as Marie wanted, thanks to the Director of the School of Physics where Pierre taught, he was able to find some space in a little ground-floor store-room for her to begin her researches. They were both dedicated scientists and researchers.

Her early researches, together with her husband were conducted under difficult conditions. The laboratory arrangements were extremely poor and they both had to undertake a lot of teaching assignments so as to earn their livelihood. 

Pierre & Marie’s Curie's researches and successes:

In 1896, the discovery of radioactivity by Henri Becquerel, a French Physicist who discovered that Uranium salts emitted rays, weaker rays than the X-rays, but resembling X-rays, (which had been discovered by Wilhelm Roentgen in 1895), in their penetrating power, motivated the Curies in their brilliant researches and analyses which led to the isolation of Polonium, named after Marie’s country of birth, and Radium.

She took Becquerel’s work further, conducting her own experiments on Uranium Rays. She discovered that the rays remained constant, no matter what the condition or form of the Uranium was. She theorised that the rays came from the element’s atomic structure. This novel concept led to the creation of the field of atomic physics and she herself coined the word radio-activity to describe the phenomena.

 However, as Radium had not been seen by anyone, its discovery remained in theory only.

The Curies were determined to prove the existence of Radium and were aware that Pitchblende, in which both – Polonium and Radium were hidden, was treated at the Joachimsthal mines in Bohemia to extract uranium salts used in making glass. It was a costly ore, but the Curies calculated that the extraction of Uranium would leave Polonium and Radium intact. They obtained a ton of the substance from the Austrian Government and conducted their experiments in an abandoned shed from 1898 to 1902.

Ultimately, in 1902, the Curies announced the existence of Radium, when Marie succeeded in preparing a decigram of pure Radium and in determining its atomic weight. The properties of Radium were bewildering. Its radiation was two million times stronger than that of Uranium and the rays could penetrate the hardest and most opaque matter.

Marie Curie developed methods for the separation of Radium from radio-active residues in sufficient quantities to allow for its characterisation and the careful study of its properties, therapeutic properties in particular. The discoveries, later, led to the development of X-rays. Under her direction, the World’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radio-active isotopes.

A Radium industry was about to be born. Several countries planned to make use of radioactive ores and some technicians from the USA wrote to Pierre to share the secret extraction formula with them.

The Curies had two choices – either, to describe the results of their research without reserve or, to patent the technique of treating Pitchblende and assure themselves of rights over the manufacture of Radium throughout the World. Without any hesitation, they chose the former option, as they reasoned that taking out a patent was against the “scientific spirit” and would deprive several excellent researchers from more work in this field. Between poverty and fortune, they chose the former, in the name of “scientific spirit”.

In 1903, the Royal Institution, London, invited Pierre to lecture on Radium, which was followed by several other prestigious dinners and banquets, as the whole of London wanted to see the “parents of Radium”. The Royal Society bestowed on the Curies one of their highest awards – the Davy Medal.

In the same year (1903), Marie and Pierre were awarded half the Nobel Prize for Physics, for their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel, the other half of the prestigious honour going to Becquerel himself.

She became the first woman to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics. It seems that there was some reluctance amongst the Nobel Committee members to honour a woman, as thus far it had been only a “men’s only club”, but after a complaint by Pierre, Marie’s name was included. 

They were invited to Sweden next to accept the Nobel Prize. Research being their priority and being too busy with their researches, and awards being meaningless to them, the Curies declined to go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person, particularly as Pierre disliked public ceremonies, but when told that Nobel Laureates were required to deliver a lecture, the Curies finally went to Stockholm in 1905.
The award money of about 7000 gold francs was mostly spent on buying presents for relatives and friends and the only luxury that Marie allowed herself was installing a new bathroom and repapering the house walls. The prize money also allowed the Curies to hire their first lab assistant.

Also, in 1903, Marie succeeded Pierre as the Head of the Physics Laboratory at the Sorbonne and gained a Doctor of Science degree.

In 1905, Pierre was elected to France’s Academy of Sciences.

On 19.04.1906, tragedy struck the family, when Pierre took leave of the Professors in the Faculty of Science and went out into a downpour. He absent-mindedly stepped from behind a cab into the path of a heavy wagon. Although he tried to hang onto the chest of the horse which suddenly reared, Pierre slipped on the wet pavement and was dragged several yards, with the rear wheel going over him and he was killed.

Following the passing away of Pierre under these tragic circumstances, despite of her grief, Marie took his place as Professor of General Physics in the Faculty of Sciences, the first time a woman was appointed to this position. Although the whole College was curious to find out as to how she would begin her first lecture and whether she would talk about the tragedy, stoically, she began her lecture at the same place Pierre had left off when he was alive earning everyone’s admiration.

In 1911, she received a second Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry in recognition of her work in radioactivity. She was selected for her discovery of Radium and Polonium. While she received the prize, in her acceptance speech, she claimed the honour jointly with her late husband who had been an equal partner in her scientific pursuits. She was, thus, the only woman to win the Nobel Prize in two fields and the only person to win in multiple sciences.

Around this time she joined several famous scientist to attend the first Solvay Congress in Physics where many ground-breaking discoveries in various fields and pioneering research was discussed among the August gathering including Albert Einstein and Max Planck. She was a member of the “Conseil du Physique Solvay” from 1911 till the time of her passing away in 1934.

The Sorbonne and the Pasteur Institute jointly founded the Curie Institute of Radium comprising of two parts: a laboratory for biological Research and the study of Cancer treatment directed by an eminent physician.

In 1914, she was also appointed Director of the Curie Laboratory in the Radium Institute of the University of Paris which was founded that year. Always having inadequate lab facilities, Marie now headed the Radium Institute (Institut du radium), and had a full-fledged radioactivity laboratory to continue her researches in.

Against the advice of her family, Marie made a gift of the Radium worth more than a million gold francs which she and Pierre had prepared with their own hands to the laboratory in which she continued to work till the end of her life.

In 1920, for the 25th Anniversary of the discovery of Radium, the French Government established a stipend for her, the only other recipient being Louis Pasteur.

In 1921, she toured the USA to raise funds for research on Radium. Mrs. William Brown Meloney after interviewing Marie created a “Marie Curie Radium Fund” and raised money to buy Radium, publicising the main purpose of her trip. The women of America collected 100,000 dollars to buy a gram of Radium, in recognition of her service to science, which was presented to Marie by President Warren Harding of the USA, on their behalf. She was the toast of America, with medals, honorary titles and degrees being showered upon her. Crowds milled around to get a glimpse of her, notwithstanding her mortal fear of crowds and publicity.

The French Government seeing her International popularity & recognition belatedly offered her a Legion of Honour award which she refused.

In 1922, she became a Fellow of the French Academy of Medicine and travelled to several countries giving lectures, including in Belgium, Brazil, Spain and Czechoslovakia.

Also, in August 1922, she became a member of the newly created International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations.

Later, in 1929, during her second American tour, she canvassed hard to establish a radioactivity laboratory in her native city, Warsaw. She stayed as the personal guest of President Hoover at the White House who presented her with a gift of $50000 donated by the American Friends of Science to purchase Radium for use in the Laboratory in Warsaw.

Despite all these honours, all that she was always concerned about was whether she could live without her laboratory and the young scientists working there.

In 1932, she founded the Radium Institute in Warsaw which became one of the leading radioactivity research laboratories in the World, with her sister Bronya as its first Director. The Radium Institute produced four Nobel Prize winners including her daughter Irene Joliot-Curie and her son-in-law, Frederic Joliot-Curie.

As both Pierre and Marie were unaware of the deleterious effects of radiation exposure attendant on their continued unprotected work with radioactive substances, they had no idea as to the price they would pay for the effect of their research upon their health.

Her long years of working with radio-active materials took a toll on her health. She carried test-tubes of Radium around in the pockets of her lab-coat and stored them in her desk drawer little realising that prolonged exposure to radiation was extremely harmful to her health. She was also exposed to X-rays from unshielded equipment while serving as a radiologist in field hospitals during World War I.

On 04.07.1934, she passed away in Savoy France of aplastic anaemia resulting from years of exposure to radiation. She was interred at the cemetery in Sceaux alongside her husband Pierre, without any fanfare in a simple ceremony attended only by her family and colleagues.

In 1995, both Pierre’s and her remains were interred in the Pantheon in Paris, the eternal resting place of many of France’s greatest minds. She was the first and only woman to be laid to rest there. She remains the most famous woman scientist of all time and several posthumous awards were bestowed upon her.
She was held in high esteem and admiration by scientists throughout the World. Several awards and honours were bestowed upon her. She received numerous honorary science, medicine and law degrees and honorary memberships of learned societies throughout the World.

Though she became a French citizen, she took pride in her Polish identity and taught her daughters the Polish language and took them on visits to Poland and contributed funds and participated in awareness programmes for Poland to be a free country. The first chemical element that she discovered in 1898, she named Polonium after her native country, as she thought this would create more awareness about the political situation in Poland.

Throughout her life, she actively promoted the use of Radium to alleviate suffering during World War I, assisted by her daughter Irene. She championed the use of portable X-ray machines in the field, and the medical vehicles transporting them were nicknamed “petites Curies” (meaning “Little Curies”). She, thus, established the first military field radiological centres.

Her legacy:

Marie’s work moved way beyond the established concepts in Physics and Chemistry during her lifetime and enthused generations of Scientists to look beyond the established thinking.

To achieve her scientific ambition she had to overcome barriers placed in her path in the “men dominated” scientific and educational Institutes both in Poland & France.

She intentionally refrained from patenting the Radium isolation process so that the scientific community could do research unhindered. To her, monetary gifts and awards were meaningless, and she insisted that Awards and monetary honours won by her should be given to the scientific institutes she was affiliated to. In fact, she and Pierre often refused to accept awards and medals.

As the most famous woman scientist of all time till date she is an icon in the scientific world.

In 2009, a poll carried out by the “New Scientist”, she was voted the “most inspirational woman in science”.

The year 2011, was declared by both Poland and France as the “Year of Marie Curie”, while the United Nations Organisation declared 2011 as the “International Year of Chemistry” in her honour.

Three radioactive minerals are named after the Curies: “Curite”, “Sklodowskite” and “Cuproskolodowskite”.

Several Institutes across the World bear her name (the two Curie Institutes – the “Maria-Sklodowska-Curie Institute of Oncology” in Warsaw, the “Institut Curie” in Paris, the “Maria Curie-Sklodowska University” in Lublin and the “Pierre and Marie Curie University” in Paris), two museums (the “Maria Sklodowska-Curie Museum” in Warsaw and her Paris Laboratory is preserved as the “Musee Curie”), several works of art (a statue of Marie Curie in the Radium Institute at Warsaw, a stained glass panel of her,  the “Maria Sklodowska-Curie’ medallion in the University of Buffalo Polish Room etc.), numerous biographies including one by her daughter Eve Curie titled “Madame Curie” (1938), “Obsessive Genius: The Inner world of Marie Curie” (2005), “Radioactive Marie and Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout” (2011), a Film (“Madame Curie” based on her life in 1943, “Les Palmes de M. Shutz”, (1997) etc. 

Her work is recorded in numerous papers in scientific journals, chiefly “Recherches sur les Substances Radioactives” (1904), “L’Isotopie et les Elements Isotopes” and “Traite de Radioactivite” (1910). Her last book “Radioactivity” was published posthumously in 1935.

Marie Curie Fellowships have been set up by the European Commission which are in the nature of European Research Grants available to researchers regardless of their nationality or field of research. In addition, to generous research funding, scientists have an opportunity to gain experience abroad and in the private sector, and to complete their training with competences or disciplines useful in their careers.

One wonders, if Pierre had not passed away in the tragic accident in 1906, what other “scientific gifts”, this First Couple of Scientific Research would have left the World for posterity.

Her fascination for pursuit of scientific knowledge was imbibed by her daughter Irene Joliot Curie, who went on to win the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 along with her husband Frederic Joliot, for their work on synthesis of new radioactive elements. This was the only instance, when two generations of a husband and wife team of Scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize for their contribution to scientific research and discovery, a no mean feat by itself.

Commemorating Marie Sklodowska-Curie:

Her portrait has appeared on several bills, stamps and coins around the world. In the 1980s she was placed on 20000 Zloty Banknotes as well as the last French 500-Franc Banknote before it was replaced by the Euro in 2000.

In 2011, on the centenary of Marie winning the second Nobel Prize (1911), an allegorical mural was painted on the facade of her Warsaw birthplace, portraying her as holding a test tube from which emanate the elements Polonium and Radium which she discovered as an adult.

The Front of the 20 Zlotych Banknote depicts the portrait of Marie Sklodowska–Curie and mentions her name as “Maria Sklodowska – Curie” & her life years “1867-1934”. In the background is an image of the building of Sorbonne in Paris which is mentioned in Polish as “Sorbona w Paryzu”. The Note is dated “WARSZAWA, 20 KWIETNIA 2011 r” (meaning “20th April 2011”). The Banknote was released for Collectors on 25th November 2011.

The denomination of the Banknote is mentioned in numerals as “20” and in Polish as “DWADZIESCIA ZLOTYCH”.

The Back of the 20 Zlotych Banknote  shows the Nobel Prize Medal which is awarded to all the Nobel Prize winners. There is a quotation from Marie Sklodowska–Curie’s speech on Radium which reads in Polish as “Rad wykrylam, lecz nie stworzylam, wiec nie nalezy do mnie, a jest wlasnoscia calej ludskosci” (meaning “I have detected the Radium, but not created it; the glory does not belong to me, but it is the property of the whole mankind”). 
This is in keeping with the Curies' philosophy of sharing their findings with the World for all to benefit, without seeking any personal fortunes from their discoveries
In the background, there is a picture of the Radium Institute in Warsaw.

The designer is Agnieszka Prochnaik. The steel engraving matrix has been done by Przemyslaw Krajewski. This Banknote was printed by the Polish Security Printing Works (PSPW) in a limited edition of 60000 pieces only. The size of the Banknote is 138 x 69 mm. The colour of this Banknote is brown and green.

This Banknote was issued by Polish Security Printing Works (PWPW S.A.).

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