Maria Skłodowska was born in Warsaw, in Congress Poland in the Russian Empire, on 7 November 1867, the fifth and youngest child of well-known teachers Bronisława, née Boguska, and Władysław Skłodowski.
Maria's mother Bronisława operated a prestigious Warsaw boarding school for girls; she resigned from the position after Maria was born. She died of tuberculosis in May 1878, when Maria was ten years old.
When she was ten years old, Maria began attending the boarding school of J. Sikorska; next she attended a gymnasium for girls, from which she graduated on 12 June 1883 with a gold medal.
In early 1889 she returned home to her father in Warsaw. She continued working as a governess, and remained there till late 1891.
She tutored, studied at the Flying University, and began her practical scientific training (1890–91) in a chemical laboratory at the Museum of Industry and Agriculture at Krakowskie Przedmieście 66, near Warsaw's Old Town.
At the beginning of 1890, Bronisława—who a few months earlier had married Kazimierz Dłuski, a Polish physician and social and political activist—invited Maria to join them in Paris.
In late 1891, she left Poland for France. In Paris, Maria (or Marie, as she would be known in France) briefly found shelter with her sister and brother-in-law.
She rented a garret closer to the university, in the Latin Quarter, and proceeding with her studies of physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the University of Paris, where she enrolled in late 1891.
Skłodowska studied during the day and tutored evenings, barely earning her keep. In 1893, she was awarded a degree in physics and began work in an industrial laboratory of Professor Gabriel Lippmann.
Marie continued studying at the University of Paris, and with the aid of a fellowship she was able to earn a second degree in 1894.
For the 1894 summer break, Skłodowska returned to Warsaw, where she visited her family.She was still laboring under the illusion that she would be able to work in her chosen field in Poland, but she was denied a place at Kraków University because she was a woman.
In 1895, Wilhelm Roentgen discovered the existence of X-rays, though the mechanism behind their production was not yet understood. In 1896, Henri Becquerel discovered that uranium salts emitted rays that resembled X-rays in their penetrating power. He demonstrated that this radiation, unlike phosphorescence, did not depend on an external source of energy but seemed to arise spontaneously from uranium itself. Influenced by these two important discoveries, Curie decided to look into uranium rays as a possible field of research for a thesis.
A letter from Pierre Curie convinced her to return to Paris to pursue a Ph.D. At Skłodowska's insistence, Curie had written up his research on magnetism and received his own doctorate in March 1895; he was also promoted to professor at the School.
On 26 July 1895 Pierre Curie married Marie in Sceaux (Seine).
By 1898 the Curries had acquired traces of radium, but appreciable quantities, uncontaminated with barium, were still beyond reach.
Pierre Curie was increasingly intrigued by her work. By mid-1898 he was so invested in it that he decided to drop his work on crystals and to join her.
She began a systematic search for additional substances that emit radiation, and by 1898 she discovered that the element thorium was also radioactive.
On 14 April 1898, the Curies optimistically weighed out a 100-gram sample of pitchblende and ground it with a pestle and mortar. They did not realize at the time that what they were searching for was present in such minute quantities that they would eventually have to process tons of the ore.
In July 1898, Curie and her husband published a joint paper announcing the existence of an element which they named "polonium", in honour of her native Poland.
On 26 December 1898, the Curies announced the existence of a second element, which they named "radium", from the Latin word for "ray". In the course of their research, they also coined the word "radioactivity".
In 1900, Curie became the first woman faculty member at the École Normale Supérieure, and her husband joined the faculty of the University of Paris.
The Curries undertook the arduous task of separating out radium salt by differential crystallization. From a ton of pitchblende, one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride was separated in 1902.
In 1902 she visited Poland on the occasion of her father's death.
Between 1898 and 1902, the Curials published, jointly or separately, a total of 32 scientific papers, including one that stated that, when exposed to radium, diseased, tumor-forming cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells.
In June 1903, supervised by Gabriel Lippmann, Curie was awarded her doctorate from the University of Paris.
In June 1903, the couple were invited to the Royal Institution in London to give a speech on radioactivity; being a woman, she was prevented from speaking, and Pierre Curie alone was allowed to.
In December 1903, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences awarded Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and Henri Becquerel the Nobel Prize in Physics, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel." At first the committee had intended to honor only Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel, but a committee member and advocate for women scientists, Swedish mathematician Magnus Goesta Mittag-Leffler, alerted Pierre to the situation, and after his complaint, Marie's name was added to the nomination. Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize.
In December 1904, Curie gave birth to their second daughter, Ève. She hired Polish governesses to teach her daughters her native language, and sent or took them on visits to Poland.
Curie and her husband declined to go to Stockholm to receive the prize in person; they were too busy with their work, and Pierre Curie, who disliked public ceremonies, was feeling increasingly ill. As Nobel laureates were required to deliver a lecture, the Curies finally undertook the trip in 1905.
On 19 April 1906, Pierre Curie was killed in a road accident. Walking across the Rue Dauphine in heavy rain, he was struck by a horse-drawn vehicle and fell under its wheels, causing his skull to fracture. Curie was devastated by her husband's death.
On 13 May 1906 the physics department of the University of Paris decided to retain the chair that had been created for her late husband and to offer it to Marie. She accepted it, hoping to create a world-class laboratory as a tribute to her husband Pierre. She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.
She headed the Radium Institute (Institut du radium, now Curie Institute, Institut Curie), a radioactivity laboratory created for her by the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris. The initiative for creating the Radium Institute had come in 1909 from Pierre Paul Émile Roux, director of the Pasteur Institute, who had been disappointed that the University of Paris was not giving Curie a proper laboratory and had suggested that she move to the Pasteur Institute.
In 1910, she isolated pure radius metal. She never succeeded in isolating polonium, which has a half-life of only 138 days.
In 1910 Curie succeeded in isolating radium; she also defined an international standard for radioactive emissions that was eventually named for her and Pierre: the curie.
In 1911, it was revealed that Curie was involved in a year long affair with physicist Paul Langevin, a former student of Pierre Curie's, a married man who was estranged from his wife. This resulted in a press scandal that was exploited by her academic opponents.
In 1911 the French Academy of Sciences failed, by one or two votes, to elect her to membership in the Academy. Elected instead was Édouard Branly, an inventor who had helped Guglielmo Marconi develop the wireless telegraph.
International recognition for her work had been growing to new heights, and the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, overcoming opposition prompted by the Langevin scandal, honored her a second time, with the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. This award was "in recognition of her services to the advancement of chemistry by the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, by the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."
In 1912, the Warsaw Scientific Society offered her the directorship of a new laboratory in Warsaw but she declined, focusing on the developing Radium Institute to be completed in August 1914, and on a new street named Rue Pierre-Curie.
A month after accepting her 1911 Nobel Prize, she was hospitalised with depression and a kidney ailment.
For most of 1912 she avoided public life but did spend time in England with her friend and fellow physicist, Hertha Ayrton.
Curie returned to her laboratory in December, after a break of about 14 months.
She visited Poland in 1913 and was welcomed in Warsaw but the visit was mostly ignored by the Russian authorities.
Curie's second Nobel Prize enabled her to persuade the French government into supporting the Radium Institute, built in 1914, where research was conducted in chemistry, physics, and medicine.
During World War I, She became the director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and set up France's first military radiology centre, operational by late 1914.
In 1915, Curie produced hollow needles containing "radium emanation", a colorless, radioactive gas given off by radium, later identified as radon, to be used for sterilizing infected tissue. She provided the radium from her own one-gram supply. It is estimated that over a million wounded soldiers were treated with her X-ray units.
In 1920, for the 25th anniversary of the discovery of radium, the French government established a stipend for her.
In 1921, U.S. President Warren G. Harding received her at the White House to present her with the 1 gram of radium collected in the United States, and the First Lady praised her as an example of a professional achiever who was also a supportive wife.
In 1921, she was welcomed triumphantly when she toured the United States to raise funds for research on radium. Mrs. William Brown Meloney, after interviewing Curie, created a Marie Curie Radium Fund and raised money to buy radium, publicizing her trip.
In 1922 she became a fellow of the French Academy of Medicine. She also travelled to other countries, appearing publicly and giving lectures in Belgium, Brazil, Spain, and Czechoslovakia.
In August 1922 Marie Curie became a member of the League of Nations' newly created International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.
In 1923 she wrote a biography of her late husband, titled Pierre Curie.
In 1925 she visited Poland to participate in a ceremony laying the foundations for Warsaw's Radium Institute.
Her second American tour, in 1929, succeeded in equipping the Warsaw Radium Institute with radium; the Institute opened in 1932, with her sister Bronisława its director.
In 1930 she was elected to the International Atomic Weights Committee, on which she served until her death.
Curie visited Poland for the last time in early 1934.
on 4 July 1934, she died at the Sancellemoz sanatorium in Passy, Haute-Savoie, from aplastic anemia believed to have been contracted from her long-term exposure to radiation.
In her last year, she worked on a book, Radioactivity, which was published posthumously in 1935.