Marie Curie’s Ph.D. Thesis on Radioactivity–Which Made Her the First Woman in France to Receive a Doctoral Degree in Physics

For her ground­break­ing research on radioac­tiv­i­ty, Marie Curie won the Nobel Prize. Or rather, she won two, one for physics and anoth­er for chem­istry, mak­ing her the only Nobel Lau­re­ate in more than one sci­ence. What’s more, her first Nobel came in 1903, the very same year she com­plet­ed her PhD the­sis at the Sor­bonne. In Recherch­es sur les sub­stances radioac­tives (or Research on Radioac­tive Sub­stances), Curie “talks about the dis­cov­ery of the new ele­ments radi­um and polo­ni­um, and also describes how she gained one of the first under­stand­ings of the new phys­i­cal phe­nom­e­non of radioac­tiv­i­ty.”

So says sci­ence Youtu­ber Toby Hendy in the intro­duc­tion below to Curie’s the­sis–a the­sis that made her the first woman in France to receive a doc­tor­al degree in physics. “Fol­low­ing on from the dis­cov­ery of X‑rays by Wil­helm Roent­gen in 1895 and Hen­ri Becquerel’s dis­cov­ery that ura­ni­um salts emit­ted sim­i­lar pen­e­tra­tion prop­er­ties,” says The Doc­u­ment Cen­tre, Curie “inves­ti­gat­ed ura­ni­um rays as a start­ing point, but in the process dis­cov­ered that the air around ura­ni­um rays is made to con­duct elec­tric­i­ty.”

Her deduc­tion that “the process was caused by prop­er­ties of the atoms them­selves” — a rev­o­lu­tion­ary find­ing that over­turned pre­vi­ous­ly held notions in physics — led her even­tu­al­ly to dis­cov­er radi­um and polo­ni­um, which would get her that sec­ond Nobel in 1911.

Unlike her Nobel Prize in physics, which she shared with her hus­band Pierre and the physi­cist Hen­ri Bec­quer­el, Marie Curie won her Nobel Prize in chem­istry alone. By 1911 Pierre had been dead for half a decade, but Marie’s sci­en­tif­ic genius could­n’t be stopped from con­tin­u­ing their pio­neer­ing research as far as she could take it in her own life­time. She clear­ly knew how vast a field her work, with and with­out her hus­band, had opened up: “Our research­es upon the new radio-active bod­ies have giv­en rise to a sci­en­tif­ic move­ment,” she writes at the end of Recherch­es sur les sub­stances radioac­tives. That move­ment con­tin­ues to make dis­cov­er­ies more than a cen­tu­ry lat­er — and her orig­i­nal the­sis itself remains radioac­tive.

Relat­ed con­tent:

An Ani­mat­ed Intro­duc­tion to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Lau­re­ate

Marie Curie Became the First Woman to Win a Nobel Prize, the First Per­son to Win Twice, and the Only Per­son in His­to­ry to Win in Two Dif­fer­ent Sci­ences

Marie Curie Invent­ed Mobile X‑Ray Units to Help Save Wound­ed Sol­diers in World War I

How Amer­i­can Women “Kick­start­ed” a Cam­paign to Give Marie Curie a Gram of Radi­um, Rais­ing $120,000 in 1921

Marie Curie Attend­ed a Secret, Under­ground “Fly­ing Uni­ver­si­ty” When Women Were Banned from Pol­ish Uni­ver­si­ties

Marie Curie’s Research Papers Are Still Radioac­tive 100+ Years Lat­er

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

by | Permalink | Comments (3) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (3)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • John says:

    She was Maria Sklodows­ka Curie (as on the PhD the­sis cov­er)

  • Nagendrappa Giddappa says:

    Most inspir­ing is Madam Curie. Her hus­band Pierre was a baack bone and enabled her to process tons of radioac­tive soil to iden­ti­fy and iso­late radi­um and polo­ni­um. A rare and coura­geous woman of her era who had edu­cat­ed against the wish of soci­ety and con­tin­ued to pur­sue research with her hus­band to share Nobel prize with Bac­qer­el and Pierre and her PhD on radioac­tive sub­stances in 1903 and lat­er one Moore Nobel prize in chem­istry in 1911 with­out the pre­vi­ous sup­port of Pierre. She had a daugh­ter who had won noble prize and an anoth­er daugh­ter a cel­e­brat­ed writer. A unique fam­i­ly through Curie. Long live her mem­o­ry inspir­ing gen­er­a­tions to come. A priv­i­lege to say I did lit­tle work on the area she worked hard and left ever­last­ing knowl­edge.

  • G. Gandra says:

    Very nice your work about Madame Curie, a sym­bol of real sci­en­tist ded­i­cat­ed to the help the mankind.

    Please let me know wereI can find the Madame Curie the­ses, eng­lish ver­sion
    G. Gan­dra

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.