Who is she?

Marie Curie


Marie Curie, originally named Maria Sklodowska, was born in Warsaw on November 7, 1867. Her father was a professor of mathematics and physics. Her mother, a teacher, died of tuberculosis when Marie was only 12 years old. With a poverty-stricken family, and very limited access to scientific studies – exacerbated by the fact that she was a woman – her decision to pursue a scientific career faced many obstacles. To finance her sister’s medical school tuition in Paris, Marie worked as a governess in Poland. Her sister then made it possible for Marie to come and study physics and mathematics at la Sorbonne in Paris.


Marie moved to France in 1891. She took math classes taught by two highly reputable mathematicians, Paul Painlevé and Paul Apell, and by the physicist Gabriel Lippmann. The latter, a Nobel prize winner in physics in 1908, welcomed the young woman to his laboratory in 1893 after she had obtained her degree in physics. In 1894, impressed by her various qualities, Lippmann gave her full authority over a project to study steel magnetization. But the young researcher lacked knowledge on matters of magnetism which led her to seek advice from one of the best specialists of her time: Pierre Curie. Pierre and Marie got married on July 26, 1895, in Sceaux. In 1897 Marie gave birth to a little girl, Irene, and in 1904 to another girl named Eve. Irene, like her mother, was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry.


In 1895 Marie began to do some research on a new phenomenon that had recently been discovered by Henri Becquerel. This new phenomenon was named radioactivity. She was soon joined by her husband, who gave up his own research. For months the two physicists carried out grueling research focusing on pitchblende, a uranium filled ore. That same year they announced that they had succeeded in extracting two new radioactive elements from this ore: radium and polonium. This discovery, which they refused to patent as they felt it belonged to humanity, got them and Henri Becquerel the 1903 Nobel Prize in physics. Pierre Curie died in an accident in 1906. Marie Curie was devastated by his death and ensuing financial issues, which she managed to overcome thanks to her courage and determination.


In 1911 Marie Curie was awarded the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and was the only woman present at the prestigious Solvay Conference held that year. There she met Ernst Rutherford and a young rising star in theoretical physics, Albert Einstein, with whom she kept in touch. During World War I, Marie Curie was extremely dedicated to launching her new radiology technique, in order to help surgeons locate and extract metal fragments from the bodies of wounded soldiers.

In 1921 Marie Curie needed radium and equipment to continue her research. She obtained it thanks to the tenacity of an American journalist, Miss Mary Meloney, and the generosity of many American women.

A Story Of Passion

When Marie Curie discovered radium, she very quickly had the revolutionary idea of applying radioactivity and its properties to medicine.

The origin of the Institut dates back to 1909, when, thanks to Marie Curie, the University of Paris and Institut Pasteur, the Radium Institute was conceived with an impressive laboratory for Marie Curie to pursue the study of radioactivity and its medical applications. Construction was completed in 1914.

On May 27 1921, the Curie Foundation was given the status of a “private non-profit foundation for the public good”. The Foundation was able to receive donations to finance the activities of the Radium Institute and contribute to the development of medical projects.

In the footsteps of Marie Curie’s legacy, passionate and highly-qualified scientific women from all over the world have been joining Institut Curie’s teams since its creation in 1909.

Meet four exceptional women

Dr Geneviève Almouzni

Institut Curie’s Research Center Director

She received her PhD from the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France, in 1988. After completing her postdoctoral training at the National Institutes of Health, Bethesda, USA, in the laboratory of Alan P. Wolffe, she became a CNRS (Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique) junior group leader at the Institut Curie, Paris, France, in 1994.

In 1999, she became head of the Nuclear Dynamics and Genome Plasticity unit, she is Director of the Research Center since 2013.

Among the 2014 AAAS winners (American Association for the Advancement of Science) she is the only French scientist to be awarded a prize in the biological sciences section, which honours 106 scientists, just four of whom are European.

 According to the AAAS, “She has been recognised for her contribution to understanding the organisation of chromatin within the cell nucleus and, more specifically, for her work on the regulatory mechanisms of histones and the structure of pericentromeric regions.”

Women in Science Prize 2013

Winner 2014 American Association for the Advancement of Science/Biological Sciences Section

Dr Anne Vincent-Salomon

MD, PhD Genetic and biology of cancers Institut Curie

Dr Anne Vincent-Salomon has published more than 130 peer-reviewed manuscripts and is a member of the Editorial board of the European Journal of Clinic Pathology.

She is also one of the three directors of the post-educational course on breast pathology from the French Division of The International Academy of Pathology and the scientific organizer of the international course on breast cancers from biology to clinics of the Institut Curie.

She is a member of the AACR, the International Academy of Pathology and the French Society of Mammary Pathology and Senology.

Pink Ribbon Research Award 2012

Pr Edith Heard

Professor, College de France

She studied Natural Sciences at Cambridge University, graduating in genetics, and then carried out her PhD at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, London, United Kingdom, working on gene amplification in cancer.

During her post doc at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, she began her work on the epigenetic process of X-chromosome inactivation. Since 2001 she has led the Mammalian Developmental Epigenetics team at the Institut Curie and has been director of the Unit of Genetics and Developmental Biology Department since 2010.

Pr Dominique Stoppa Lyonnet

Pr Dominique Stoppa Lyonnet

head of the Genetics Unit at Institut Curie.

Pr Stoppa-Lyonnet is a specialist in medical genetics. She holds a postgraduate degree in Human genetics and a PhD in genetics science. She worked on “access cancer predisposition genetic tests” at the Cancer Plan, French Department of Health.

Dominique Stoppa Lyonnet and her team discovered in 2011 a new test for both BCR1 and BCR2 genes, cheaper, faster and wider than any other test available.

She’s a member of various scientific associations such as:

The Genetic and Cancer Group of the FNCLCC (Federation of French Cancer Centers), The French Society of Genetics, The International Breast Cancer Linkage Consortium, the Cancer genetics board of the National Cancer Institute.

Estee Lauder, Marie-Claire Prize – Breast cancer

Enter the campaign for women in science
The Curie Museum

The Curie Museum

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Finance grants for women in science

Finance grants for women in science

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Institut Curie

International Distinction

Institut Curie’s Research Center is internationally renowned for its quality and expertise.   Birthplace of radiotherapy, Institut Curie continues to innovate in complex techniques and treatments and takes an active part in the dissemination of knowledge and innovations worldwide.

From Fundamental Research to Innovative Care

The priorities of the Institut Curie revolve around three essential approaches: research, care, and the dissemination of knowledge in a humane way with individual attention, in line with the values of its founder.

One of the best research centers in Europe

By combining fundamental research, clinical research, care, and training at the same campus in the heart of Paris, the Institut Curie is one of the best.

Patients treated each year
Consultations each year

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