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The Brilliant Scientist Who Survived a Sex Scandal

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Technology Manager, Poet, History Maniac. Also a prolific writer on varied topics as diverse as relationships, creativity, and technology.

The Brilliant Scientist Who Survived a Sex Scandal

The Brilliant Scientist Who Survived a Sex Scandal

Marie Curie: The Brilliant Scientist

Marie Curie was a woman of many firsts.

  • The first woman in Europe to receive a Ph.D. in physics.
  • The first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her pioneering research in radioactivity.
  • The first person ever to win two Nobels in both physics and chemistry.
  • The first woman to start a scientific dynasty with both her daughter and son-in-law sharing a Nobel prize later.

That said, she was also the first woman in science to acquire an ignominious reputation of being a home breaker. After the death of her husband Pierre Curie, Marie found herself in an illicit relationship with Paul Langevin, a scientist five years her junior and a former student of Pierre. And that happened while Paul was married and just after his wife bore her fourth child.

The scandal blew out of proportion and she almost lost her Nobel prize because of that with the Nobel science academy stating that the king of Sweden does not want to shake hands with an ‘adulteress’.

Later, it took tremendous courage and resilience from Marie and her unquestionable brilliance in science to come out of the scandal unscathed while redeeming her reputation. Madame Curie’s courage as a female scientist fighting for her identity in a male-dominated world has been beautifully immortalized in the 2019 movie Radioactive starring Rosamund Pike as Marie Curie.

Marie Curie was a Brilliant Scientist

Marie Curie was a Brilliant Scientist

The Story of Marie Curie

Marie was introduced to chemist Pierre Curie, lab director of the Municipal School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in 1894 when she was looking for laboratory space to do her research. They hit on immediately as Marie said later.

“Our work drew us closer and closer, until we were both convinced that neither of us could find a better life companion.”

Pierre was also madly in love with her as he says in one of his letters.

“It would, nevertheless, be a beautiful thing in which I hardly dare believe, to pass through life together hypnotized in our dreams: your dream for your country; our dream for humanity; our dream for science.”

The two were married in the summer of 1895. It was a happy blissful marriage of like minds.

Then tragedy struck the love birds on a rainy April afternoon in 1906. Pierre was crossing a street when he was run over by a horse-drawn carriage that was carrying six tons of military uniforms. Pierre was killed instantly. Marie was deeply heartbroken as she talks about those days in her letter to a friend.

“Crushed by the blow, I did not feel able to face the future. I could not forget, however, what my husband used sometimes to say, that, even deprived of him, I ought to continue my work.”

While being a widow Marie took over the post of Pierre in the physics department again creating a first by becoming the first female professor at the Sorbonne. The French government offered her a pension but she refused it sating she can support herself and her children on her own. Marie immersed herself completely in her work trying to forget Pierre’s memories.

That was when she fell in love again. This time with Paul Langevin, a scientist five years her junior and a former student of Pierre. There would have been no scandal, had Paul not been a married man with four kids. The two became inseparable and soon they started making secret visits to a ‘love nest’ they had taken up in Paris.

Paul’s wife grew suspicious and she hired a private investigator to keep a watch on them. The investigator broke into their love pad and got indiscriminating letters that Marie had written to Paul in passion.

She leaked the letters to the press and the French newspapers had a field day lapping up the story of the famous scientist with a torrid love affair. It became one of the hottest scandals of that time.

They painted her as a Jewish seductress, a home breaker, and a woman of disrepute conveniently ignoring her glorious achievements in science. Marie returned home from a conference in Belgium to find an angry mob surrounding her house, tormenting her two daughters. She quickly packed up her family and fled to a friend’s home.

It is at this time, the Swedish Academy of Sciences wrote to her trying to persuade her not to come to Stockholm to receive her Nobel prize so that the ‘adulteress’ do not shake hands with the Swedish king.

But they underestimated Marie who fought back tooth and nail.

Marie Fights Back Tooth and Nail

Marie Fights Back Tooth and Nail

Marie Fights Back

Marie responded angrily to the Swedish Academy of Sciences.

"The prize has been awarded for the discovery of radium and polonium. I believe that there is no connection between my scientific work and the facts of private life. I cannot accept ... that the appreciation of the value of scientific work should be influenced by libel and slander concerning private life."

Albert Einstein also jumped to Curie’s defense, saying she ought to come to Sweden regardless of the allegations. He said.

“I am convinced that you [should] continue to hold this riffraff in contempt…if the rabble continues to be occupied with you, simply stop reading that drivel. Leave it to the vipers it was fabricated for.”

Marie won her second Nobel Prize. She attended the ceremony even though the committee wanted her to skip it. The furor died down eventually, aided by her fanatic dedication towards science and the brave effort she put during world war 1 in which she put together a fleet of vehicles carrying portable X-ray machines, called ‘Petites Curies’ to help doctors image broken bones, shrapnel and bullets in patients on the front lines.

She died in 1934 from prolonged illness due to her continuous exposure to radioactive materials. Marie proved that science is not always practiced by cold-blooded, highly logical individuals who do not make any mistakes. Even the best of brains are humans after all, and humans are not infallible.

Sources

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

Comments

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 18, 2021:

All please feel free to comment

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 17, 2021:

All please feel free to comment

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 04, 2021:

Yes, Flourish. Ultimately her immense contributions outshone all such things and she came out winning.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 04, 2021:

I didn't know that she faced this scandal. She's right that her science and personal life had nothing to do with one another and the committee had no business trying to revoke the prize.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks, James. Marie Curie was an amazing lady.

James C Moore from Joliet, IL on April 03, 2021:

I was vaguely aware of Marie Curie's accomplishments before reading your hub. I didn't know much personal info about her. I'm really impressed she turned down a pension determined to stand on her own. Well done.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks, MG.yes great people are also not infallible. We should celebrate their achievements rather than other things.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on April 03, 2021:

Interesting Ravi, I had read about Madam Curie and even wrote an article on her husband. Great people are allowed some latitude as a part of their genius.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks, Gyanendra for your comments

gyanendra mocktan from Kathmandu,Nepal on April 03, 2021:

This is a very informative story of Marie Curie, of which I had no idea. Thank you my friend for sharing and widening my knowledge

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks, Bill for your comments.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 03, 2021:

Always an interesting read, my friend. Curry was remarkable considering the time she was working. The world is a better place because of her remarkable gifts and talents.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks Vanita

Vanita Thakkar on April 03, 2021:

Informative and interesting. Thanks.

Ravi Rajan (author) from Mumbai on April 03, 2021:

Thanks Miebakagh for your comments.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on April 03, 2021:

As a previous student of chemistry, I know the importance of a discovery like radium. Your article is an interesting read. Thanks for sharing.

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