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Pierre Curie was a French physicist, physical chemist, and Nobel laureate. Most people are familiar with his wife's accomplishments (Marie Curie), yet don't realize the importance of Pierre's work. He pioneered scientific research in the fields of magnetism, radioactivity, piezoelectricity, and crystallography. Here's a brief biography of this famous scientist and a list of his most notable achievements.
May 15, 1859 in Paris, France, son of Eugene Curie and Sophie-Claire Depouilly Curie
April 19, 1906 in Paris, France in a street accident. Pierre was crossing a street in the rain, slipped, and fell under a horse-drawn cart. He died instantly from a skull fracture when a wheel ran over his head. It is said Pierre tended to be absent-minded and unaware of his surroundings when he was thinking.
Claim to Fame:
- Pierre Curie and his wife Marie shared half the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Henri Becquerel for their research into radiation.
- Pierre also received the Davy Medal in 1903. He was awarded the Matteucci Medal in 1904 and the Elliot Cresson Medal in 1909 (posthumously).
- Pierre and Marie also discovered the elements radium and polonium.
- He also co-discovered the piezoelectric effect with his brother Jacques. The piezoelectric effect is where compressed crystals give off an electric field. In addition, Pierre and Jacques found crystals could deform when subjected to an electrical field. They invented the Piezoelectric Quartz Electrometer to aid in their investigations.
- Pierre developed a scientific instrument called the Curie Scale so that he might take accurate data.
- For his doctoral research, Pierre examined magnetism. He formulated a description of the relationship between temperature and magnetism that became known as Curie's law, which uses a constant known as the Curie constant. He found there was a critical temperature above which ferromagnetic materials lose their behavior. That transition temperature is known as the Curie point. Pierre's magnetism research is considered among his greatest contributions to science.
- Pierre Curie was a brilliant physicist. He is considered one of the founders of the field of modern physics.
- Pierre proposed the Curie Dissymmetry Principle, which states that a physical effect cannot have dissymmetry separate from its cause.
- The element curium, atomic number 96, is named in honor of Pierre and Marie Curie.
- Pierre and his student were the first to discover nuclear energy from heat emitted by radium. He observed radioactive particles might carry a positive, negative, or neutral charge.
More Facts About Pierre Curie
- Pierre's father, a doctor, provided his early education. Pierre earned a math degree at age 16 and had completed the requirements for a higher degree by age 18. He could not immediately afford to pursue his doctorate, so he worked as a lab instructor.
- Pierre's friend, physicist Jozef Wierusz-Kowalski, introduced him to Marie Sklodowska. Marie became Pierre's lab assistant and student. The first time Pierre proposed to Marie, she refused him, eventually agreeing to marry him on July 26, 1895.
- Pierre and Marie were the first to use the word "radioactivity". A unit used to measure radioactivity, the Curie, is named in honor of either Marie or Pierre or both of them (a point of argument among historians).
- Pierre was interested in the paranormal, as he believed it might help him understand physics better and especially magnetism. He read books on spiritualism and attended seances, viewing them as scientific experiments. He took careful notes and measurements, concluding some phenomena he witnessed did not appear to be faked and could not be explained.
- Pierre and Marie's daughter Irene and son-in-law Frederic Joliot-Curie were physicists who studied radioactivity and also received Nobel prizes. The other daughter, Eve, was the only member of the family who was not a physicist. Eve wrote a biography about her mother, Marie. Pierre and Marie's granddaughter Helene is a nuclear physics professor and grandson Pierre is a biochemist. Their parents were Irene and Frederic Joliot-Curie. Pierre Joliot is named for Pierre Curie.