Marie Curie - Polish Scientist and Winner of Two Nobel Prizes

Equal 1st Prize - 2013 Adelaide Plains Open Poetry Competition on the theme "The Elements"

Marie Curie (1867-1934) is the only woman to have won two Nobel Prizes - for both chemistry and physics - in an age when science was the domain of men.

With her husband Pierre she discovered two new elements ... polonium and radium. Their hands-on work with these dangerous radioactive substances pioneered nuclear medicine. Tragically they did not understand the personal risks they took. Radium ultimately killed Marie, and to this day her notebooks lie in a lead-lined box in Paris ... too radioactive to handle.

In a rare departure from Australian-themed poetry, "Lady of the Elements" is my personal tribute to this inspirational woman.

Lady of the Elements
(c) Shelley Hansen 2012

They said it wasn't right, this strange obsession -
at her age girls should be embroidering!
Who would have thought that she would take possession
of all that education's gifts could bring?
Encouraged by a fond, progressive father
she gained a scholarship at the Sorbonne,
and quickly showed of all things she would rather
work quietly where her rare talents shone.

For chemistry and physics were her passion
and tirelessly she toiled through night and day,
disdaining food and sleep, and scorning fashion
as if she knew that she would light the way
to new, exciting elements of science.
She worked alone, until there came a man
upon whose wisdom she could place reliance
and so a meeting of their minds began.

She married Pierre Curie in the summer -
they worked in an abandoned, broken shed.
These poor and humble lodgings would become a
foundation for discoveries ahead.
Polonium and radium - the glowing
and dangerous new elements were found.
Marie worked unprotected, never knowing
how radiation's death grip would rebound.

One day Pierre walked home, absorbed in thinking,
he slipped and fell on roads made wet by rain.
A carriage wheel extinguished in a blinking
his life, to leave Marie in grief and pain.
She forced herself to keep researching, teaching,
although her heart was dead and turned to stone.
Her fine results would prove to be far-reaching ...
but oh, how hard it was to work alone!

She won two Nobel Prizes - what an honour -
first woman to receive this accolade!
She did not wish that fame be heaped upon her -
but longed in love alone to be repaid.
She set up radiology resources
within the tragic days of World War One,
and in the post-war years established courses
perpetuating research she'd begun.

Within her hands the elements she cradled,
and traced their bright emissions with delight.
How could she know the radium she ladled
would ultimately kill her with its might?
With scientific faith she took her chances
and let her quest for knowledge be her guide,
and pioneered great medical advances
that we might live by that from which she died.

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