STEM Saturdays: A twentieth-century French physics dynasty
Marie Skłodowska Curie (1867-1934) is best known as mother of radiochemistry - a well-earned designation for a scientist who was the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the first person to win twice, the only person to win in two different sciences (physics and chemistry), and the first woman professor at the University of Paris. With her husband and collaborator, Pierre, Mme. Curie made contributions that profoundly redefined radioactivity and challenged the popular understanding of the law of conservation of energy. Her work also laid the foundation for dozens of subsequent feats in experimental physics and chemistry by establishing radium as a reliable source of radiation in the laboratory.
Marie and Pierre's eldest daughter, then Irène Curie, showed an early aptitude for mathematics. When she saw that Irène would need more stimulation than mainstream French schooling to realize her potential, the elder Curies and other French intellectuals, including physicist Paul Langevin, conspired to form The Cooperative, a radical home-schooling enterprise in which academic parents took turns educating one another's children in their respective fields of expertise. Irène went on to win a Nobel prize for the discovery of artificial radioactivity and synthesis of new radioactive elements in 1935 along with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, a former lab assistant to Marie and Pierre. The couple's children, Pierre and Hélène, went on to become accomplished scientists themselves.