Summary of Sunday Presentation by Wendy Devlin

Date:               March 10, 2019

Topic:         Marie Curie: Legacy of the World’s First Medical Physicist

Presenter:   Dr. Parminder S. Basran , Medical Physicist

Dr Basran first defined cancer and then identified the 4 ways it is commonly treated: surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy. Half of all cancers are treated using radiation so the impact Madame Curie’s work had on medicine is immense.

Dr Basran gave an overview of what Radiation Therapy actually is and the precision with which it is applied; followed by a brief history of the discovery of x-rays, and radioactive gamma rays, and a history of Marie Curie’s life and career.

Marie Curie (nee Sklowdowska) was born in Poland in 1867, the daughter of a scientist whose political views ran him afoul of the government. Marie relocated to Paris in 1885 receiving degrees in both Chemistry and Physics within a few years. As a graduate student she worked in the lab of her future husband, Pierre. In 1903 Marie and Pierre were both awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics and in 1911 Marie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

Marie Curie conducted pioneering research on radioactivity (a term she coined). In 1898 she published her first paper on how cancer cells could be killed when exposed to radioactivity. Her devotion to her work was so great that she was back working in the lab just two days after the funeral for her husband in 1906.  His death left her with the sole responsibility for their two daughters, yet Marie continued on despite the restrictions involved.

Her contributions to the world of medicine are numerous, including:

The Radium Institute, WW 1”s mobile X-ray trucks (called ”petite curies”) and the  discovery of radium and polonium.  She was a pioneer in work that led to current well-established treatments using radiation.

Madame Curie died in 1934 of illness related to her exposure to radiation over the long course of her career. This exposure was so great that even the notes she left must be kept in lead boxes.