Today (November 8) marks the International Day of Radiology (or World Radiography Day); the 123rd anniversary of the discovery of X-rays back in 1895. We're celebrating by remembering one of the primary scientists in this field and the world's first female Nobel Prize winner, Marie Curie. She devoted her life to research into uranium; a endeavour that would eventually also take her life.
The Polish academic, born in 1867, didn't have the easiest of upbringings; the family fortune had gone some years before her birth, and the fact that she was a woman meant that higher education was next to impossible to pursue. She did, however, manage to enrol at the secret Flying University in Poland and eventually took up scientific training at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture. At the age of 24, she enrolled at the University of Paris and earned degrees in physics and chemistry.
Following the discovery of X-rays and new research in uranium salts, Marie developed new techniques to investigate samples and hypothesized that radiation came from the atoms themselves rather than the interection between molecules; a huge step in proving that atoms were not, in fact, indivisible.
Her own husband, Pierre Curie, was so impressed with the work she had been doing that he eventually dropped his own studies in favour of joining her with hers. While he was consulted on various aspects of her findings, Marie was determined in establishing her ownership of her work because of society's attitudes towards women at the time. She knew that people would find it difficult to believe that the research had been conducted by a woman.
Marie Curie is credited with having coined the term "radioactivity" as well as the discovery of the elements polonium and radium and techniques in isolating radioactive isotopes. Not only is she the first woman to have won a Nobel Prize, she is also the first person and only woman to win two. Numerous institutions and organisations have been named after her, including the charity Marie Curie Cancer Care.
Her career was not without its sacrifices, however, and she died at the age of 66 from a rare disease known as aplastic anemia; a condition which damages bone marrow and stem cells resulting in blood cell deficiency. In her case, it was caused by excessive exposure to radiation.