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"Business-minded technicians wanted to market radium, and it could have meant a fortune for the Curies. It was, after all, their discovery. Should they sell their discovery? Marie said: 'It is impossible. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit. Physicists always publish their researches openly. If our discovery has a commercial future, that is an accident. Radium is going to be used in treating disease.... It seems to me impossible to profit by that'. They made their research public, to the benefit of countless individuals"

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Marie Sklodowska Curie

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Home » Lives of Spiritual Unfolding » Marie Sklodowska Curie

Service through Science

The marriage of Marie and Pierre was a partnership of love, work and vocation. Long years of research, study and toil were carried out with no real laboratory. They worked on their most important research in a drafty, sodden shed. Madame Curie herself boiled down tons of pitchblende, handling the material by hand, to isolate a radioactive material. Knowing that they were on the brink of discovering a remarkable new element, Pierre told his wife: "I should like it to have a very beautiful color." Imagine their wonder when they first saw the spontaneously luminous element in their tiny glass receivers: they had discovered radium.

She wrote at one time about her work in the laboratory: "In spite of the difficulties of our working conditions, we felt very happy. In our poor shed there reigned a great tranquillity... that atmosphere of peace and meditation which is the true atmosphere of a laboratory." Years later, when looking back on her years of hard work, Madame Curie was to say that they were her happiest-to do what one was born to do, to learn about the great mysteries of nature. Yet all those years she suffered from a terrible, unshakable fatigue that was to plague her most of her life-brought on by her dedication to work and the neglect of her personal needs and health.

Marie Curie worked with an attitude of service and renouncement to personal gain. The discovery of radium led to important medical applications: it soon was found to be useful as radiation treatment for cancerous cells. Business-minded technicians wanted to market radium, and it could have meant a fortune for the Curies. It was, after all, their discovery. Should they sell their discovery? Marie said: "It is impossible. It would be contrary to the scientific spirit. Physicists always publish their researches openly. If our discovery has a commercial future, that is an accident. Radium is going to be used in treating disease.... It seems to me impossible to profit by that." They made their research public, to the benefit of countless individuals.

Neither Marie nor her husband knew how to be famous. Their new discovery and the Nobel Prize in Physics which followed in 1903, brought them much publicity which they regretted. The newspaper reporters, photographers and writers disturbed the peace and rhythm of their work and research. They received money-70,000 gold francs-but they never thought of spending it on themselves. The money became presents for the family, subscriptions to scientific societies, gifts to Polish students, and one gift of special tenderness. Remembering a poor Frenchwoman who had taught her French in Warsaw, whose dream it was to see her native land again, Madame Curie invited her to France, paid for her journey, and received her in her home. The good lady was to speak of this unexpected joy with tears.

Pierre and Marie Curie's thought was always directed to service-to be available, to help others, to do research to further understanding of the sciences.

Then a terrible thing happened-while crossing the street, most likely preoccupied with a scientific question, Pierre Curie was run over by a horse and carriage. The tragic accident caused Pierre's death, and the loss was nearly unbearable for Marie. To lose her husband, companion and colleague so suddenly and unpredictably filled her with a terrible grief. Until the end of her days, she could not speak of him without a tremor in her voice. But she remembered his words, spoken shortly before his death: "If one of us should die, the other must live for science, even if it means going on like a body without a soul."

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