Marie Curie was born in Poland in 1867. As a child, she amazed people with her great memory. She learned to read when she was only four years old.
Her father was a professor of science. The instruments that he kept in a glass case fascinated Marie. She dreamed of becoming a scientist, but that would not be easy. Her family became very poor, and at the age of 18, Marie became a governess. She helped pay for her sister to study in Paris. Later, her sister helped Marie with her education.
In those days, there were no universities for girls in Poland. So, in 1891, Marie went to the Sorbonne University in Paris. She was so poor, she ate only bread and butter, and drank tea. She wore old clothes she had brought with her from Warsaw.
Every day, she would study in the library until 10:00 p.m., then go to her cold little room, and read until 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning.
After four years at the Sorbonne, Marie married Pierre Curie, a well-known physicist. (A physicist is a scientist who studies the physical nature of the world – what things are made of and why they do what they do.)
Together the Curies began looking for new elements. They took uranium ore, ground it up, and boiled it. They treated it with acids and other chemicals. Finally, after four years of hard work and tons of ore, they had one-tenth of a gram of pure radium. They had discovered the first radioactive element!
In 1903, Marie, Pierre, and another scientist, Henry Becquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their discovery of radium and their study of radioactivity. Marie Curie was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize in Physics. Later, she won a second Nobel Prize in Chemistry.
During World War I, Marie worked to develop x-rays. She believed they could help treat diseases like cancer. She never tried to make money from her discoveries, because she believed in helping others.