Rendez-vous at the Curie Museum in Paris
A museum scarcely bigger than a Paris flat sheds light on a momentous era for physics, a time of heroic individuals who made extraordinary discoveries but often at hideous risk.
Within the walls of the former "Radium Institute" in the city's Latin Quarter is the preserved laboratory of Marie Curie, central figure of the greatest dynasty in modern science.
The Polish-born genius, her husband Pierre, their daughter Irene and son-in-law Frederic Joliot were colossuses of physics and chemistry, between them notching up five Nobel prizes in just over three decades. The Curies helped rip aside the veil hiding radioactivity, even coining the term for it. They discovered two new elements, polonium and radium, and made artificial radioactivity from stable elements such as boron and magnesium. They contributed hugely to health, setting up mobile X-ray machines for hospitals on the World War I trenches. And they walloped cancer, pioneering the first studies into isotopes to kill tumorous cells.
In 1903, Marie Curie became the first woman to receive a Nobel Prize, sharing the physics award with her husband and a pioneer in radioactivity, Henri Becquerel. Eight years later, she became the sole winner of the Nobel Prize for chemistry. She remains the only individual to win a Nobel in multiple sciences. After years of exposure to radioactive elements and X-rays, she died of leukaemia in 1934 at the age of 66.
Stepping into Marie Curie's lab is to be timewarped to the era of horizon-sweeping ideas and men and women with a restless, questing spirit.
1 rue Pierre et Marie Curie
Tel: +33(0)1 56 24 55 31 / +33(0)1 56 24 55 33