12 Powerful Life Lessons From The Great Marie Curie

Marie Curie discovered two new elements, won two Nobel prizes and has a legacy today as strong as during her lifetime.

Today -- November 7 -- marks the 151st birthday of the late, great Marie Curie. She's a woman who needs a very little introduction, but it would be remiss of us to at least not celebrate her extraordinary contributions to science.

Marie Skłodowska Curie is probably the most famous female scientist of all time. She was a Polish-born (then Russia) French-naturalized physicist and chemist who pioneered the field of radioactivity (a term she also coined).

Throughout her esteemed career, she discovered two new elements (Radium and Polonium), won two Nobel Prizes, and became the first female Professor of the University of Paris. She also founded the Curie Institutes in Paris and Warsaw and helped treat wounded soldiers during WW1. 

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Marie Curie died in 1934 at the age of 66 after suffering from aplastic anemia as a consequence of her years of exposure to radiation.

Marie's legacy is as strong today as it was in her time with various institutions and awards named in her honor.

She did all this while simultaneously raising a family with her equally esteemed husband, Pierre Curie. The couple worked closely together on radioactivity for many years until his death in 1906.

Posthumously, she continued to break records. Her remains became the first of a woman to ever be entombed in the Pantheon in Paris.

Our Interesting Engineering team collected samples of some of her more thought-provoking and poignant quotes. Enjoy; and happy birthday, Marie Curie!

 1. You have nothing to fear except fear itself

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.” - Marie Curie

Marie Curie had a tough time making it during her life. Although her father inspired her to pursue her interest in science, her gender remained a barrier to her early success. 

Given the age in which she lived, succeeding as a scientist became a huge undertaking for the young Marie. She was determined to succeed in a field traditionally dominated by men, at the time, and steeled herself for tough times ahead. 

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She knew she could do and had nothing to fear.

2. Life is an adventure, embrace it

If I see anything vital around me, it is precisely that spirit of adventure, which seems indestructible and is akin to curiosity - Marie Curie

Curie was certainly an incredible woman. Her determination to succeed, despite the odds being against her, must have really felt like a quest for her.

Her spirit for adventure and obsessiveness would help her practically single-handily create an entirely new method for finding new elements using radioactivity. Although today she is best known for her discovery of radium and polonium, this belies the years of hard work and sacrifice leading up to that.

She accomplished this whilst also raising children and being a homemaker. 

3. Suck it up buttercup

Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe that we are gifted for something and that this thing must be attained- Marie Curie

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Curie had little respect for feeling sorry for yourself, especially when one considers how much she overcame.

After the astounding accomplishments and struggle to make a name for herself she is a great role model for us all. She would likely laugh at our "first world" problems today.

4. Humanity needs both practical men and dreamers.

"Humanity needs practical men, who get the most out of their work, and, without forgetting the general good, safeguard their own interests. But humanity also needs dreamers, for whom the disinterested development of an enterprise is so captivating that it becomes impossible for them to devote their care to their own material profit.” - Marie Curie

While it's important for humanity to have those who work hard to feed their families, it also needs those who can dream of the possibilities of the future. 

After all, dreams are the foundation of our species and the driving force for our seemingly limitless creativity in all things. 

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5. Progress takes time.

“I was taught that the way of progress was neither swift nor easy.” - Marie Curie

"Patience is a virtue" is a phrase fast becoming forgotten to modern generations, but Marie knew this to be true through personal experience. Her long road to success was neither a given nor was it without its hurdles, both societal and personal.

Marie Curie pushed through them all with her eye keenly fixed on her future. If she hadn't been so tenacious, diligent and patient we might not remember her name today.

6. Science has a freeing quality.

“It was like a new world opened to me, the world of science, which I was at last permitted to know in all liberty.” - Marie Curie

Science was an obsession and passion for Marie Curie from a young age. It fascinated and enchanted her, much to our great benefit today.

Her pursuit of scientific knowledge was both a joy for Marie and of great utility to humanity in the long run. 

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Marie Curie photo
Source: Tekniska Museet/Flickr

7. Never stop working. 

“Sometimes my courage fails me and I think I ought to stop working, live in the country and devote myself to gardening. But I am held by a thousand bonds, and I don't know when I shall be able to arrange things otherwise. Nor do I know whether, even by writing scientific books, I could live without the laboratory.” - Marie Curie

Marie Curie loved her work, especially her laboratory work. So much so you should never dream of living without it.

Before she became a famed scientist she had to actually work for years as a governess before she could enroll at Sorbonne University - one of the few that allowed women to join at the time. He perseverance paid off after getting her letter of acceptance one fateful day - the rest is history.

They always say you should choose a career in something that you would happily do for free. We are sure Marie would have completely agreed with that sentiment.

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8. Stay curious, no matter the cost!

I am among those who think that science has great beauty. A scientist in his laboratory is not only a technician: he is also a child placed before natural phenomena which impress him like a fairy tale." - Marie Curie

There can be no doubt that without Marie's intoxicating curiosity for knowledge it is unlikely she would have become one of the world's greatest chemists. Her, and her husband's, work was, after all, inspired by their fascination with the new phenomenon of invisible rays discovered by Henri Becquerel. 

Thes strange rays could pass through things and cause electricity to conduct electricity. Strange stuff.

Her conviction helped her push through her peer's doubts to discover new and exciting elements.

9. Don't be a perfectionist!

"Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it" - Marie Curie

As anyone high-flier will tell you, you should never aim for perfection - you won't get there!

Here's a secret you might want to know - perfection doesn't exist. Whilst this might seem like poor advice, on the surface, you need to think about the practicalities of life. 

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If you aim for perfection in all things you will never complete anything. You also run the risk of making yourself deeply unhappy.

It is better to make things as good as you can make them, put them down and move on. 

Marie Curie Radium
Source: Pixabay

10. Fix yourself first before you tackle the world

"You cannot hope to build a better world without improving the individuals. To that end, each of us must work for our own improvement, and at the same time share a general responsibility for all humanity, our particular duty being to aid those to whom we think we can be most useful." - Marie Curie

This one is brilliant advice, and one many of us probably recognize in society at large. Some become so obsessed about finding problems, as they see it, around them or trying to "fix" them that they neglect their own self-improvement first.

Marie would despair at this she was a huge advocate for self-improvement. Afterall it is better to be busy improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

11. Man is flawed but essentially good

"I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries." - Maire Curie

Although she could never have foreseen the destructive power that could be harnessed from radioactive materials, Marie believed that scientific progress was essentially a thing for good. Nuclear power is probably the perfect example here for Curie's sentiment.

It can both be used to atomize millions of people or can be harnessed to provide heat and light for them. In fairness, nuclear weapons in part do appear to have made the world a, slightly, more peaceful place.

In fact Marie, during WW1, used her newfound element, Radium, to develop X-Ray machines for battlefield medicine. After raising enough funds she was able to send the first "Petits Curies" to the front to X-Ray wounded men and locate fractures, bullets, and shrapnel.

12. Never rest on your laurels 

"One never notices what has been done; one can only see what remains to be done." - Marie Curie

Marie Curie's love of all things science helped her appreciate the work of her peers that came before her. But she would have been the first to admit that science must keep moving forward, not rest on its laurels.

This attitude led her to win not just one but two Nobel prizes. This made her the first woman to be awarded this prestigious prize and also the first, and the only woman ever to win two. 

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