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April 19, 1906—The Death of Nobel Prize Laureate Pierre Curie

Posted April 19, 2017 3:00 PM by MaggieMc

Thinking back to science class, Curie is a familiar name. Marie Curie is a favorite subject in many courses, especially due to organizing mobile X-ray teams during World War I. Her husband Pierre Curie, who died in a street accident on April 19, 1906, is sometimes seen as an afterthought despite the Curies being jointly awarded the 1903 Nobel Peace Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for Becquerel’s discovery of “spontaneous radioactivity” and the Curies’ subsequent research on the phenomena.

Together, the Curies received half of the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1898, they announced the discovery of radium and polonium by fractionation of pitchblende after what Curie’s Nobel Prize biography describes as “conditions of much hardship—barely adequate laboratories” and “having to do much teaching in order to earn their livelihood.”

The Curie’s later investigation into the “properties of radium and its transformation products” formed much of the basis for further research in nuclear physics and chemistry.

Unlike his wife, Pierre Curie was a Paris native, born to a doctor and his wife. Curie received his early schooling at home before gaining his licentiateship in physics in 1878 from the Faculty of Sciences at Sorbonne. Beginning in 1882, he functioned as a demonstrator in the physics laboratory. Then, in 1895, he was awarded a doctorate of science and was appointed professor of physics.

Prior to his work with his wife, whom he married in 1895, Pierre Curie studied crystallography with his brother Paul-Jacques Curie, discovering piezoelectric effects, or “the appearance of a positive charge on one side of certain non-conducting crystals, and negative charge on the opposite side when the crystals are subjected to mechanical pressure.” According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, in 1880, the brothers compressed certain crystals, including quartz tourmaline, and Rochelle salt, producing a voltage on the surface of the crystal.

Later, he focused on magnetism, discovering that “magnetic properties of a given substance change at a certain temperature,” which is now known as the Curie point.

On April 19, 1906, Curie was “run over by a dray in the rue Dauphine in Paris… and died instantly.” His complete works were published posthumously in 1908. After his death, his wife Marie won a second 1911 Nobel Peace Prize for producing radium as a pure metal in 1910. Their daughter Irene won the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry with her husband Frédéric Joliot “in recognition of their synthesis of new radioactive elements.”

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Re: April 19, 1906—The Death of Nobel Prize Laureate Pierre Curie

04/20/2017 3:01 PM

I seem to recall a classic movie where Pierre was one of the main characters. Just as is told here, a senseless death, and tragic story actually of true love.

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Re: April 19, 1906—The Death of Nobel Prize Laureate Pierre Curie

04/20/2017 3:04 PM

Perhaps the 1943 film, Madame Curie?

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