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Biography of Pierre Curie

Biography of Pierre Curie

Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie (15 May 1859 - 19 Apr 1906) was born in Paris, the son of a medical practitioner. He studied at the Sorbonne University. He became a laboratory assistant in 1878 and then the head of the laboratory of the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry in 1882. He worked for the laboratory until he was appointed as Professor of physics at the Sorbonne University in 1904. Pierre and Marie Sklodowska married in 1895 and they started to conduct research on radium. They won the Nobel Prize in Physics for "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." in 1903.

His scientific biography can be divided into 2 parts. First, he conducted research on magnetism and crystallography before Becquerel discovered radioactivity, and then he started research on new phenomena with his wife, Marie.

He and his older brother, Jacque, discovered piezoelectricity in 1880. "Piezo" comes from a Greek word meaning "Press". Some crystals generate electric charge of the opposite polarity on the surface when they mechanically deform. The reverse phenomenon also occurs. Thus, the crystals deform when they are electronically charged. They made a potentiometer to measure the very little current generated by this effect. Marie also used this potentiometer to investigate if substances, other than uranium, would make the air conductive. Pierre's second largest discovery was the thermo-magnetic effect. This critical temperature now known as the Curie point is where a ferromagnetic material loses its ferromagnetism.

Soon after this discovery, he and his wife started to focus on new phenomena of radioactivity and discovered new chemical elements, radium and polonium, in 1898. They conducted research on radioactivity emitted by these substances in order to make pure radium.

Despite his achievements, few people paid attention to him in France. He was denied when wanting to join the academy in 1902. He was finally appointed as Professor of Physical Chemistry and Mineralogy at the Sorbonne University in 1904, after he was offered a position in Geneva. It seems that he was planning to leave the country because he, as a left winger, was not happy with the French Third Republic government policy towards science.

Pierre was probably the first person who was poisoned by radioactivity as there was no radiation protection policy during that time. He fell on a street in Paris, was accidentally run over by a horse-drawn carriage and died in 1906. The curie, a unit of radioactivity, was named after him.

Their daughter, Irene Joliot Curie, also conducted research on radioactivity. She won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband, Frederic.

Dictionary of Scientists P.165-166 (Editing committee of dictionary of scientists, Chairperson Yoshihiko Ohtsuki) (published on 31 Mar 1997 by Maruzen Co., Ltd.)
Author: Masaharu Nemoto
(Universal Plan Co., Ltd.)
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