Updated: Jul 23
#7 Science in History
11th December 1911
Today, in 1911, Marie Curie became the first person to be awarded a second Nobel Prize.
She had been honoured, along with her husband Pierre and Henri Becquerel, with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903. This second prize was hers alone and recognised her work in the field of Chemistry.
Early research was difficult for the Curies – poor working conditions along with a heavy teaching load to make ends meet meant progress was slow. When Becquerel discovered radioactivity at the end of the 19th century, the Curies were galvanised and focused their research in the same area. This ultimately led to the discovery of two new elements – radium and polonium.
Pierre died in 1906 when he slipped, falling under a horse-drawn wagon on a Parisian street. Marie, although devastated by Pierre's death, continued her research as a way of honouring him. She was offered Pierre’s Chair as Professor and became the first female professor at the Sorbonne.
Marie Curie never lost her enthusiasm and devoted her time to science and radioactivity. With her daughter, Irene, she operated a mobile x-ray unit during the First World War helping to alleviate the suffering of wounded soldiers.
Marie died at the age of 66. Her death was most probably a consequence of her long-term radiation exposure.
Only four other individuals have received two Nobel Prizes – none of them women…
Linus Pauling won for Chemistry and Peace
Frederick Sanger won one and shared another in Chemistry
John Bardeen shared the physics Prize twice
In 2022, Barry Sharpless won a shared Chemistry Prize after gaining his first in 2001