Pierre Curie

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Pierre Curie
Pierre Curie by Dujardin c1906.jpg
Pierre Curie, c. 1906
Born(1859-05-15)15 May 1859
Paris, France
Died19 April 1906(1906-04-19) (aged 46)
Paris, France
Cause of deathFractured skull due to street accident
Alma mater University of Paris
Known for Radioactivity
Curie's law
Curie-Weiss law
Curie constant
Curie temperature
Discovery of piezoelectricity
Spouse(s) Marie Skłodowska-Curie (1867–1934; m. 1895)
Children Irène Joliot-Curie
Ève Curie
Awards Davy Medal (1903)
Nobel Prize in Physics [lower-alpha 1] (1903)
Matteucci Medal (1904)
Elliott Cresson Medal (1909)
Scientific career
Fields Physics, Chemistry
Doctoral advisor Gabriel Lippmann
Doctoral students Paul Langevin
André-Louis Debierne
Marguerite Catherine Perey
Pierre Curie signature.svg

Pierre Curie ( /ˈkjʊəri/ ; [1] French:  [kyʁi] ; 15 May 1859 – 19 April 1906) was a French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity. In 1903, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife, Marie Skłodowska-Curie, and Henri Becquerel, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel". [2]

Physicist scientist who does research in physics

A physicist is a scientist who specializes in the field of physics, which encompasses the interactions of matter and energy at all length and time scales in the physical universe. Physicists generally are interested in the root or ultimate causes of phenomena, and usually frame their understanding in mathematical terms. Physicists work across a wide range of research fields, spanning all length scales: from sub-atomic and particle physics, through biological physics, to cosmological length scales encompassing the universe as a whole. The field generally includes two types of physicists: experimental physicists who specialize in the observation of physical phenomena and the analysis of experiments, and theoretical physicists who specialize in mathematical modeling of physical systems to rationalize, explain and predict natural phenomena. Physicists can apply their knowledge towards solving practical problems or to developing new technologies.

Crystallography The scientific study of crystal structure

Crystallography is the experimental science of determining the arrangement of atoms in crystalline solids. The word "crystallography" derives from the Greek words crystallon "cold drop, frozen drop", with its meaning extending to all solids with some degree of transparency, and graphein "to write". In July 2012, the United Nations recognised the importance of the science of crystallography by proclaiming that 2014 would be the International Year of Crystallography. X-ray crystallography is used to determine the structure of large biomolecules such as proteins. Before the development of X-ray diffraction crystallography, the study of crystals was based on physical measurements of their geometry. This involved measuring the angles of crystal faces relative to each other and to theoretical reference axes, and establishing the symmetry of the crystal in question. This physical measurement is carried out using a goniometer. The position in 3D space of each crystal face is plotted on a stereographic net such as a Wulff net or Lambert net. The pole to each face is plotted on the net. Each point is labelled with its Miller index. The final plot allows the symmetry of the crystal to be established.

Magnetism class of physical phenomena

Magnetism is a class of physical phenomena that are mediated by magnetic fields. Electric currents and the magnetic moments of elementary particles give rise to a magnetic field, which acts on other currents and magnetic moments. The most familiar effects occur in ferromagnetic materials, which are strongly attracted by magnetic fields and can be magnetized to become permanent magnets, producing magnetic fields themselves. Only a few substances are ferromagnetic; the most common ones are iron, cobalt and nickel and their alloys such as steel. The prefix ferro- refers to iron, because permanent magnetism was first observed in lodestone, a form of natural iron ore called magnetite, Fe3O4.


Early life

Born in Paris on 15 May 1859, Pierre Curie was the son of Eugene Curie (28 August 1827 – 25 February 1910), a doctor of French Huguenot Protestant origin from Alsatia, and Sophie-Claire Depouilly Curie (15 January 1832 – 27 September 1897). He was educated by his father and in his early teens showed a strong aptitude for mathematics and geometry. When he was 16, he earned his math degree.[ clarification needed ] By the age of 18, he had completed the equivalent of a higher degree, but did not proceed immediately to a doctorate due to lack of money. Instead he worked as a laboratory instructor. [3] When Pierre Curie was preparing for his bachelor of science degree, he worked in the laboratory of Jean-Gustave Bourbouze in the Faculty of Science. [4]

Huguenots Ethnoreligious group composed of Calvinists from France

Huguenots are an ethnoreligious group of French Protestants.

Jean Gustave Bourbouze was a French engineer, manufacturer of precision instruments and a teacher of technical education.

Pierre and Marie Sklodowska-Curie, 1895 Pierre Curie et Marie Sklodowska Curie 1895.jpg
Pierre and Marie Skłodowska-Curie, 1895

In 1880 Pierre and his older brother Jacques (1856–1941) demonstrated that an electric potential was generated when crystals were compressed, i.e. piezoelectricity. [5] To aid this work they invented the piezoelectric quartz electrometer. [6] The following year they demonstrated the reverse effect: that crystals could be made to deform when subject to an electric field. [5] Almost all digital electronic circuits now rely on this in the form of crystal oscillators. [7] In subsequent work on magnetism Pierre Curie defined the Curie scale. [8] This work also involved delicate equipment - balances, electrometers, etc. [9]

Piezoelectricity the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress

Piezoelectricity is the electric charge that accumulates in certain solid materials in response to applied mechanical stress. The word piezoelectricity means electricity resulting from pressure and latent heat. It is derived from the Greek word πιέζειν; piezein, which means to squeeze or press, and ἤλεκτρον ēlektron, which means amber, an ancient source of electric charge. French physicists Jacques and Pierre Curie discovered piezoelectricity in 1880.

Crystal oscillator electronic oscillator circuit

A crystal oscillator is an electronic oscillator circuit that uses the mechanical resonance of a vibrating crystal of piezoelectric material to create an electrical signal with a precise frequency. This frequency is often used to keep track of time, as in quartz wristwatches, to provide a stable clock signal for digital integrated circuits, and to stabilize frequencies for radio transmitters and receivers. The most common type of piezoelectric resonator used is the quartz crystal, so oscillator circuits incorporating them became known as crystal oscillators, but other piezoelectric materials including polycrystalline ceramics are used in similar circuits.

Pierre Curie was introduced to Maria Skłodowska by their friend, physicist Józef Wierusz-Kowalski. [10] Curie took her into his laboratory as his student. His admiration for her grew when he realized that she would not inhibit his research. He began to regard Skłodowska as his muse. [11] She refused his initial proposal, but finally agreed to marry him on 26 July 1895. [3] [12]

Marie Curie Polish-French physicist and chemist

Marie Skłodowska Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the first person and only woman to win twice, and the only person to win a Nobel Prize in two different sciences. She was part of the Curie family legacy of five Nobel Prizes. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris, and in 1995 became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

Józef Wierusz-Kowalski Polish physicist

Józef Wierusz-Kowalski was a Polish physicist and diplomat. He discovered the phenomenon of progressive phosphorescence. He served as Rector of the University of Freiburg, and helped to establish the section for physics at the reopened University of Warsaw. After Polish independence was established, he served as the Polish ambassador to the Holy See, the Netherlands, Austria and Turkey.

It would be a beautiful thing, a thing I dare not hope, if we could spend our life near each other, hypnotized by our dreams: your patriotic dream, our humanitarian dream, and our scientific dream. [Pierre Curie to Maria Skłodowska] [3] :117

The Curies had a happy, affectionate marriage, and they were known for their devotion to each other. [13]


Proprietes magnetiques des corps a diverses temperatures
(Curie's dissertation, 1895) Curie1895These.jpg
Propriétés magnétiques des corps à diverses temperatures
(Curie's dissertation, 1895)

Prior to his famous doctoral studies on magnetism, he designed and perfected an extremely sensitive torsion balance for measuring magnetic coefficients. Variations on this equipment were commonly used by future workers in that area. Pierre Curie studied ferromagnetism, paramagnetism, and diamagnetism for his doctoral thesis, and discovered the effect of temperature on paramagnetism which is now known as Curie's law. The material constant in Curie's law is known as the Curie constant. He also discovered that ferromagnetic substances exhibited a critical temperature transition, above which the substances lost their ferromagnetic behavior. This is now known as the Curie temperature. The Curie temperature is used to study plate tectonics, treat hypothermia, measure caffeine, and to understand extraterrestrial magnetic fields. [14]

Pierre Curie formulated what is now known as the Curie Dissymmetry Principle : a physical effect cannot have a dissymmetry absent from its efficient cause. [15] [16] For example, a random mixture of sand in zero gravity has no dissymmetry (it is isotropic). Introduce a gravitational field, and there is a dissymmetry because of the direction of the field. Then the sand grains can 'self-sort' with the density increasing with depth. But this new arrangement, with the directional arrangement of sand grains, actually reflects the dissymmetry of the gravitational field that causes the separation.

Pierre and Marie Curie in their laboratory Pierre and Marie Curie.jpg
Pierre and Marie Curie in their laboratory

Curie worked with his wife in isolating polonium and radium. They were the first to use the term "radioactivity", and were pioneers in its study. Their work, including Marie Curie's celebrated doctoral work, made use of a sensitive piezoelectric electrometer constructed by Pierre and his brother Jacques Curie. [17] Pierre Curie's 1898 publication with his wife Mme. Curie and also with M. G. Bémont [18] for their discovery of radium and polonium was honored by a Citation for Chemical Breakthrough Award from the Division of History of Chemistry of the American Chemical Society presented to the ESPCI ParisTech (officially the École supérieure de physique et de chimie industrielles de la Ville de Paris) in 2015. [19] [20]

Curie and one of his students, Albert Laborde, made the first discovery of nuclear energy, by identifying the continuous emission of heat from radium particles. [21] Curie also investigated the radiation emissions of radioactive substances, and through the use of magnetic fields was able to show that some of the emissions were positively charged, some were negative and some were neutral. These correspond to alpha, beta and gamma radiation. [22]

The curie is a unit of radioactivity (3.7 × 1010 decays per second or 37 gigabecquerels) originally named in honor of Curie by the Radiology Congress in 1910, after his death. Subsequently, there has been some controversy over whether the naming was in honor of Pierre, Marie, or both. [23]


In the late nineteenth century, Pierre Curie was investigating the mysteries of ordinary magnetism when he became aware of the spiritualist experiments of other European scientists, such as Charles Richet and Camille Flammarion. Pierre Curie initially thought systematic investigation into the paranormal could help with some unanswered questions about magnetism. [24] :65 He wrote to his fiancée Marie: "I must admit that those spiritual phenomena intensely interest me. I think in them are questions that deal with physics." [24] :66 Pierre Curie's notebooks from this period show he read many books on spiritualism. [24] :68 He did not attend séances such as those of Eusapia Palladino in Paris in 1905–6 [24] :238 as a mere spectator, and his goal certainly was not to communicate with spirits. He saw the séances as scientific experiments, tried to monitor different parameters, and took detailed notes of every observation. [24] :247 Despite studying spiritualism, Curie was an atheist. [25]


Pierre and Marie Curie's daughter, Irène, and their son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, were also physicists involved in the study of radioactivity, and each received Nobel prizes for their work as well. [26] The Curies' other daughter, Ève, wrote a noted biography of her mother. [27] She was the only member of the Curie family to not become a physicist. Ève married Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr., who received a Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of Unicef in 1965. [28] [29] Pierre and Marie Curie's granddaughter, Hélène Langevin-Joliot, is a professor of nuclear physics at the University of Paris, and their grandson, Pierre Joliot, who was named after Pierre Curie, is a noted biochemist. [30]


Tombs of Marie (above) and Pierre Curie at Paris' Pantheon Pantheon Pierre et Marie Curie.JPG
Tombs of Marie (above) and Pierre Curie at Paris' Panthéon

Pierre Curie died in a street accident in Paris on 19 April 1906. Crossing the busy Rue Dauphine in the rain at the Quai de Conti, he slipped and fell under a heavy horse-drawn cart. He died instantly when one of the wheels ran over his head, fracturing his skull. [31] Statements made by his father and lab assistant imply that Curie's characteristic absent-minded preoccupation with his thoughts contributed to his death. [32]

Both the Curies experienced radium burns, both accidentally and voluntarily, [33] and were exposed to extensive doses of radiation while conducting their research. They experienced radiation sickness and Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia in 1934. Even now, all their papers from the 1890s, even her cookbooks, are too dangerous to touch. Their laboratory books are kept in special lead boxes and people who want to see them have to wear protective clothing. [34] Had Pierre Curie not been killed as he was, it is likely that he would have eventually died of the effects of radiation, as did his wife, their daughter, Irène, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot. [35] [36]

In April 1995, Pierre and Marie Curie were moved from their original resting place, a family cemetery, and enshrined in the crypt of the Panthéon in Paris. Marie Curie was the first woman to be honored in this way "for her own merits". [37]


1903 Nobel Prize diploma Nobel Pierre et Marie Curie 1.jpg
1903 Nobel Prize diploma


  1. Awarded jointly to Pierre Curie and wife Marie Skłodowska-Curie

Related Research Articles

Radium Chemical element with atomic number 88

Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (rather than oxygen) on exposure to air, forming a black surface layer of radium nitride (Ra3N2). All isotopes of radium are highly radioactive, with the most stable isotope being radium-226, which has a half-life of 1600 years and decays into radon gas (specifically the isotope radon-222). When radium decays, ionizing radiation is a product, which can excite fluorescent chemicals and cause radioluminescence.

Henri Becquerel French physicist

Antoine Henri Becquerel was a French engineer, physicist, Nobel laureate, and the first person to discover evidence of radioactivity. For work in this field he, along with Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie, received the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics. The SI unit for radioactivity, the becquerel (Bq), is named after him.

Irène Joliot-Curie French scientist

Irène Joliot-Curie was a French scientist, the daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Jointly with her husband, Joliot-Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935 for their discovery of artificial radioactivity. This made the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date. Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.

Madame Curie is a 1943 biographical film made by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. The film was directed by Mervyn LeRoy and produced by Sidney Franklin from a screenplay by Paul Osborn, Paul H. Rameau, and Aldous Huxley (uncredited), adapted from the biography by Ève Curie. It stars Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, with supporting performances by Robert Walker, Henry Travers, and Albert Bassermann.

Curie Institute (Paris) scientific research center

Institut Curie is one of the leading medical, biological and biophysical research centres in the world. It is a private non-profit foundation operating a research center on biophysics, cell biology and oncology and a hospital specialized in treatment of cancer. It is located in Paris, France.

ESPCI Paris is an institution of higher education founded in 1882 by the city of Paris, France. It educates undergraduate and graduate students in physics, chemistry and biology and conducts high-level research in those fields. It is ranked as the first French École d'Ingénieurs in the 2017 Shanghai Ranking.

Frédéric Joliot-Curie French scientist

Jean Frédéric Joliot-Curie, born Jean Frédéric Joliot, was a French physicist, husband of Irène Joliot-Curie with whom he was jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Ève Curie French and American writer and journalist

Ève Denise Curie Labouisse was a French and American writer, journalist and pianist. Ève Curie was the younger daughter of Marie Skłodowska-Curie and Pierre Curie. Her sister was Irène Joliot-Curie and her brother-in-law Frédéric Joliot-Curie. Ève was the only member of her family who did not choose a career as a scientist and did not win a Nobel Prize, although her husband Henry Richardson Labouisse, Jr. did collect the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 on behalf of UNICEF. She worked as a journalist and authored her mother's biography Madame Curie and a book of war reportage, Journey Among Warriors. From the 1960s she committed herself to work for UNICEF, providing help to children and mothers in developing countries.

Curie may also refer to:

Induced radioactivity, also called artificial radioactivity or man-made radioactivity, is the process of using radiation to cause a previously stable material to become radioactive. The husband and wife team of Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie discovered induced radioactivity in 1934, and they shared the 1935 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for this discovery.

Hélène Langevin-Joliot French physicist

Hélène Langevin-Joliot is a French nuclear physicist. She was educated at the IN2P3 at Orsay, a laboratory which was set up by her parents Irène Joliot-Curie and Frédéric Joliot-Curie. She is a member of the French government's advisory committee. Currently, she is a professor of nuclear physics at the Institute of Nuclear Physics at the University of Paris and a Director of Research at the CNRS. She is also known for her work in actively encouraging women to pursue careers in scientific fields. She is Chairperson of the panel that awards the Marie Curie Excellence award, a prize given to outstanding European researchers. She was President of the French Rationalist Union from 2004 to 2012.

Pierre Adrien Joliot-Curie is a noted French biologist and researcher for the CNRS. A researcher there since 1956, he became a Director of Research in 1974 and a member of their scientific council in 1992. He was a scientific advisor to the French Prime Minister from 1985 to 1986 and is a member of Academia Europæa. He was made a commander of the Ordre National du Mérite in 1982 and of the Légion d'honneur in 1984.

Musée Curie museum in Paris

The Musée Curie is a historical museum focusing on radiological research. It is located in the 5th arrondissement at 1, rue Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, and open Wednesday to Saturday, from 1pm to 5pm; admission is free. The museum was renovated in 2012, thanks to a donation from Ève Curie.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum Biographical museum in Warsaw, Poland

The Maria Skłodowska-Curie Museum is a museum in Warsaw, Poland, devoted to the life and work of Polish two-time Nobel laureate Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867–1934). The museum, which is sponsored by the Polish Chemical Society, is the only biographical museum in the world devoted to the discoverer of polonium and radium.

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Emile Armet de Lisle (1853–1928) was a French industrialist and chemist who helped develop the French radium industry in the early 20th century. Around the turn of the century, Armet de Lisle began to take notice of a growing market for radium products in France. Seeking to take advantage of this opportunity and leave his own mark on the family business, de Lisle established a new factory, just outside Paris, devoted to the production of radium products in 1904. This was the first radium factory in the world.

The Marie Curie-Sklodowska Medal and Prize was established in 2016 by the Institute of Physics. It is named for Marie Curie-Sklodowska, a pioneer in the theory of radioactivity, discoverer of radium and polonium, and the only person to have won the Nobel Prize for both chemistry and physics. The award is for distinguished contributions to physics education and to widening participation within it and consists of a silver medal and a prize of £1000.


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