Born on May 15th 1859, Pierre Curie is my famous scientist of the month. Many of you will have heard of his very famous wife Marie Curie, the namesake of a charity dedicated to helping those terminally ill cancer sufferers, however her husband Pierre is less well known.
Pierre Curie was born in Paris, the son of a medical practitioner, who educated Pierre. He went on to study at Sorbonne, a university in Paris, where he met his future wife Marie Curie. Pierre began studies with his older brother Jacques into crystallography (the science that examines the arrangement of atoms in solid materials), and discovered piezoelectric effects, the electric charge that occurs from crystals in certain solid materials when they are put under mechanical stress. The pair invented the piezoelectric quartz electrometer, a piece of equipment designed to measure the faint electric currents produced when certain crystals are pressed. Two decades later, this equipment assisted his wife Marie Curie in her studies.
Pierre’s solo studies led to discovering the effect of temperature on paramagnetism (a type of magnetism that occurs in certain materials when a magnetic field is externally applied), now known as Curie’s law, and the material constant in Curie’s law is known as the Curie constant. Pierre also showed that the magnetic properties of materials change at certain temperature, now known as the Curie point. All in all, lots of things are named after this chap!
Discoveries with Marie Curie
The Curie’s married in 1895, and began studies into radioactive substances in very difficult conditions; their laboratory equipment was not up to standard, and both were also teaching to help fund their studies. The Curie’s in fact coined the term ‘radioactivity’ Alongside his wife Marie and another scientist, Professor Henri Becquerel, Pierre was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903 in recognition of their discoveries in the field of radiation. Together with Marie, he also discovered the radioactive substances radium and polonium.
As a male in a male dominated profession, Pierre received more recognition for his work in his time than his wife Marie, but was still denied entrance to some esteemed French scientific institutions, due to his unorthodox education.
Whilst crossing the road in Paris in 1906, Pierre sadly slipped and fell under a horse drawn cart, killing him instantly.
Well folks, I’m off to continue conducting my own experiments with my ExplorerLAB™ mobile science cart; perhaps I’ll make a great discovery one day!