The Love Affair Of Marie Curie & Paul

They gave the world Radium, Polonium and the term Radioactivity. Pierre proved that radium could damage living flesh. This in turn opened a new way to treat cancer and other ailments. They were the Curies. Peirre and Marie Curie dedicated their lives for the cause of science and their very discovery gave them a slow death.

In comparison to such a huge contribution, the world never seemed to forgive or cease to talk about the romantic relationship between Marie and fellow physicist Paul Langevin. This was perhaps the worst scandal that erupted towards the end of 1911. This nearly destroyed Marie's career and her public standing in the society.

Marie Curie, then called Marya Sklodowska was born of Polish parents, in Warsaw on November 7, 1867. Even as a child she displayed qualities of grit, determination and great learning.At a time when no woman had completed her degree, there was Marie looking for a research topic that would earn her a doctorate in science. In 1895, she married Pierre Curie, a scientist known for work on crystallography and magnetism.

Together they worked on Uranium and made scientific breakthroughs. At the age of 38 she was widowed by Pierre's sudden death. There are various stories surrounding his death. One version reads that continual experiments and exposure to radium started showing on his health and a horse driven carriage trampled him as he was crossing the road. Whereas the other reads, or more so it was a rumor that Curie's affair with Langevin had begun while Pierre was still alive, driving him to commit suicide in despair.

Paul Langevin, was a pupil of Pierre and five years younger than Marie. They taught science at the same private girls' school outside Paris. Paul was in an unhappy marriage with Jeanne who he felt was no match to him intellectually. They however had four children. In 1911, as rumors about the relationship between Curie and Langevin began to spread, Madame Langevin began proceedings to bring about a legal separation. That same year as Marie, Langevin and 20 other top physicists met and discussed the challenge to modern physics by the discovery of radioactivity, at an international conference in Brussels, the French press got hold of intimate letters that Curie and Langevin had exchanged.

"The fires of radium which beam so mysteriously...have just lit a fire in the heart of one of the scientists who studies their action so devotedly; and the wife and the children of this scientist are in tears...."
--Le Journal, November 4, 1911

On her return to France, Curie discovered an angry mob in front of her home in Sceaux, terrorizing her 14-year-old Irène and 7-year-old Eve. Curie and her daughters had to take refuge in the home of friends in Paris. Meanwhile

Langevin and a journalist who had reviled Marie had a feud The Swedish Academy who had informed Marie that she would again be the recipient of the Nobel Prize, (She won two Nobel Prizes for her discoveries of Radium and Polonium) after the letters were published, however, notified her that they did not want her to come to the public ceremony in Stockholm. Marie challenged the Academy's wishes, and attended the ceremony and this perhaps was her most courageous act. If, then she had retreated, her career would have been over. She did not fear and staunchly believed that eventually her reputation and honor would be restored.

love of Marie and Paul though did not see the light of the day, three generations later Paul Langevin's grandson Michel, married Marie's granddaughter Helène. Strange are the ways of love.

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Story first published: Friday, March 31, 2006, 12:32 [IST]

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