Nov. 7 marks scientist's 147th birthday

Marie Curie is well-known for her discovery of radium and polonium, being the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, being the first person to win two Nobel Prizes and the first female professor at the University of Paris.

Nov. 7 marks the 146th anniversary of her birth and gives us an opportunity to reflect on what one person can do, and sacrifice, to affect the lives of millions. Here are a few books that bring us close to the woman who changed the course of science.

“Radioactive: Marie and Pierre Curie: A Tale of Love and Fallout” by Lauren Redniss

In 1891, 24-year-old Marie moved from Warsaw to Paris, where she found work in the laboratory of Pierre Curie, a scientist engaged in research on heat and magnetism. They fell in love, married and took their honeymoon on bicycles.

They recognized radioactivity as an atomic property, heralding the dawn of a new scientific era. They won the Nobel Prize.

Newspapers mythologized the couple’s romance, beginning articles on the Curies with “Once upon a time ...” Then, in 1906, Pierre was killed in a freak accident. Marie continued their work alone. She won a second Nobel Prize in 1911, and fell in love again, this time with the married physicist Paul Langevin. Scandal ensued. Duels were fought.

In the century since the Curies began their work, we’ve struggled with nuclear weapons proliferation, debated the role of radiation in medical treatment and pondered nuclear energy as a solution to climate change. In “Radioactive,” Redniss links these contentious questions to a love story in 19th century Paris. Whether young or old, scientific novice or expert, no one will fail to be moved by Lauren Redniss’s eerie and wondrous evocation of one of history’s most intriguing figures.

“Obsessive Genius: The Inner World of Marie Curie” by Barbara Goldsmith.

Using original research — diaries, letters and family interviews — to peel away the layers of myth and reveal the woman behind the icon, acclaimed author and historian Goldsmith offers a dazzling portrait of Marie Curie, her amazing discoveries and the price she paid for fame.

“Marie Curie and Her Daughters: The Private Lives of Science’s First Family” by Shelley Emiling

Marie Curie was the first person to be honored by two Nobel Prizes and she pioneered the use of radiation therapy for cancer patients.

But she was also a mother, widowed young, who raised two extraordinary daughters alone: Irene, a Nobel Prize-winning chemist in her own right, who played an important role in the development of the atomic bomb, and Eve, a highly regarded humanitarian and journalist who fought alongside the French Resistance during World War II.

As a woman fighting to succeed in a male-dominated profession and a Polish immigrant caught in a xenophobic society, she had to find ways to support her research. Drawing on personal interviews with Curie’s descendants, as well as revelatory new archives, this is a wholly new story about Marie Curie — and a family of women inextricably connected to the dawn of nuclear physics.

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