Maria the First

From Poland to France

Maria Skłodowska-Curie is one of the most remarkable Polish scientists.

She was born in 1867 in Warsaw. She had been revealing talents for science since her childhood, but at that time Poland, after the Third Partition, became part of the Russian Empire, and in the area of annexation scientific activity was limited. In addition, women simply were not allowed to study.

That is why Skłodowska decided to study in France. However, it wasn’t so easy. First, to collect money for the trip, and to help her older sister, who was already living in Paris, Maria worked as a governess. She also taught village children which was strictly forbidden by the tsarist authorities.

In November 1891 she left to Paris, where she enrolled in natural science.

She was one of the few female students in the overwhelming male group. Her financial situation was still tough. The average temperature in the flat she was renting was about 10°C. She also suffered from hunger, eating mainly radishes and drinking tea. However, despite these issues, she graduated from the Sorbonne.

Radioactivity and Nobels

In 1898, with her husband, Pierre Curie and with prof. Antoine Henri Becquerel, Skłodowska-Curie discovered their first chemical element unknown until then, named polonium in honor of Poland. A few months later, they managed to extract another one – radium.

This discovery was a breakthrough in the development of science, especially in medicine. In 1903 for research on the phenomenon of radioactivity, Beceqeurel and the Curie couple got the Nobel Prize in physics.

Then, in 1906, Maria took over the cathedral at the Sorbonne after her tragically deceased husband and became the first woman lecturing at the Sorbonne, and after two years the first woman-professor of the Sorbonne.

In 1911 Maria Skłodowska-Curie received a second Nobel Prize, this time in the field of chemistry, for the separation of pure radium. Awarding the prize, to this day Skłodowska is the first and only scientist who was awarded two Nobel Prizes in two different fields of science.

The war and after

World War I interrupted Maria’s scientific work. She engaged in medical help for soldiers, got cars and equipped them with X-ray equipment. As one of the first women, she obtained the right to drive lorries. And she left to the front.

After the war, she continued to work actively for the development of science, but years of working with radioactive materials destroyed her health.

Maria died in 1934 from anemia caused by radiation sickness.

Until the end of her life, she didn’t want to believe that the radium had ruined her health.

Even a hundred years after the discovery of radium, radioactive contamination persisted in her clothes.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie was buried next to her husband in Sceaux near Paris. In April 1995, the ashes of the spouses were moved to the Paris Pantheon. The Polish Nobel Prize winner is the first and only woman honored in this way for her own scientific merits and the only person who rests in the Pantheon, not being a French native.

In 1935, Maria’s daughter, Irène Joliot-Curie, with her husband Frédéric Joliot also received the Nobel prize in the field of chemistry. She was the second – after her mother – woman who received the Nobel Prize in this field, for “their synthesis of new radioactive elements”.

My photo for SiPgoes53

It’s, of course, impossible to put the life of such a great figure in one picture. In addition, regarding Maria’s origin and mine (we’re both Polish), I knew that I would be portraying Maria herself, not taking a picture loosely inspired by her. Radioactivity and its apocalyptic connotations and aesthetics are in the area of my photographic interest. This time, due to some patriotic feelings I decided to be loyal to the character.

And of course, I focused on the work that gave her fame and rewards, but also destroyed her health. I used the parts from LEGO Cuusoo Research Institute 21110 set. They match perfectly the theme and also give nice references to the origins of this set. The use of the phosphorescent Lego element was also an obvious choice. The only issue was such a technical solution, that this phosphorescence would be visible and clearly related to the subject.

Have I succeeded? Rate it yourself.

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5 years ago

Successful for me! :)

Tomasz Lasek
5 years ago
Reply to  DavidGrafika

Thank You very much David! I still think that the final result is bit too dark but I love low key too much and I wanted to keep the mood of discovering something revolutionary too much to light it more :)

5 years ago
Reply to  Tomasz Lasek

A bit dark, yes, but it’s part of the ambiance, and that’s how I see the conditions when Marie discovered it.

5 years ago

Thanks for sharing the full story of Marie with us, Thomas.
I think your image is simple, yet very powerful and a perfect tribute to Marie. The beauty of the radiating Polodium, reflecting on her face.
She smiles, unknown of the dangers that are slowly taking her live.
I think you nailed it.

Tomasz Lasek
5 years ago
Reply to  Boris

Thank You Boris for these words! I wanted it to be simple, even intimate. I’m also glad the dualism of this situation is clear.


5 years ago

I thought about using the Research Institute for my own photo, but ended up using one of the minibuilds from the Batcave of the Batman Classic TV Series set which I bought on sales in Autumn. At least now I’ve done something with that big set

Tomasz Lasek
5 years ago
Reply to  Maëlick

and You nailed it too!

5 years ago

I love your picture, with only the radioactivity light on the face of Marie, the composition is working great :)

Tomasz Lasek
5 years ago
Reply to  eatmybones

Thank You very much Karine!
This one was so easy to build and shoot, almost instinctive, both the set up and picture. I love the moments like this, when everything goes smootly like this.

Thank You!

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