Marie Curie – portrait of the French scientist, pioneer in the fields of radiation, radioactivity and … French physicists Paul Langevin.
The Secret Passions of Marie Curie
Madame Curie, the discoverer of radium and of polonium, was a woman of passion. The popular view of her life is a tale of almost elemental force of character.
Marie Skłodowska-Curie, the famous female scientist whose death was caused by her own radioactive endeavors, was involved in a highly publicized affair after her husband, Pierre Curie, died in a carriage accident in 1906. One of Pierre’s former students, Paul Langevin had been sharing a “love nest” with the mother of two. The affair was busted when Paul’s wife hired a man to investigate the happenings of her husband, breaking into their Parisian apartment and stealing letters that were then leaked to the press.
The French newspapers contrived various accusations regarding Marie, calling her a home-wrecker and a “seductive Jew, even though she wasn’t Jewish.” Paul came to her defense, as well as Albert Einstein. Although Einstein was trying to stick up for Marie, his comment was quite rude, saying Curie “has a sparkling intelligence, but despite her passionate nature, she is not attractive enough to represent a threat to anyone.” Although Einstein wasn’t anything to drool over, either, somehow, he was notorious for reeling in lots of ladies.
In November 1911, Curie was weeks away from being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She received her first Nobel in 1903 for Physics, and the new award meant that she was the first person ever to receive two Prizes. She remains the only person to be recognized in two different sciences. Though her extraordinary work as a scientist should have been all anyone cared about, it seemed that many were preoccupied with her personal life.
Pierre Curie died in 1906, leaving Marie as a widow. A few years later, she became romantically involved with physicist Paul Langevin, who had been a doctoral student of Pierre’s. Though Langevin was separated from his wife, they were still technically married. The relationship caused troubles in the Langevin home, but that was nothing compared to what was about to spill over into the public eye.
Curie, Langevin, and about 20 other scientists were invited to an elite, invitation-only conference in Brussels in the fall of 1911. During this time, love letters between Curie and Langevin had been given to members of the media by Langevin’s wife, who portrayed Curie as an evil homewrecker.
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