Pierre Curie (1859 - 1906)

Pierre Curie was born in Paris on May 15, 1869. He was educated at home by his father, a general medical practitioner. He showed a strong aptitude for mathematics and geometry even in his early teens. In 1880, Pierre and his older brother Jacques demonstrated that an electric potential was generated when crystals were compressed, and the next year they demonstrated the reverse effect: that crystals could be made to deform when subject to an electric field. Almost all digital electronic circuits now rely on this phenomenon, known as piezoelectric effects, in the form of crystal oscillators.

By age 18, Curie had completed the equivalent of a higher degree. Due to lack of money, he did not immediately pursue his doctorate, but worked as a laboratory instructor. Eventually, he entered the Faculty of Sciences at the Sorbonne. He gained his Licenciateship in Physics in 1978 and continued as a demonstrator in the physics laboratory until 1882, when he was placed in charge of all practical work in the Physics and Industrial Chemistry Schools. In 1895, he obtained his Doctor of Science degree and was appointed Professor of Physics. In 1900, he was promoted to Professor in the Faculty of Sciences, and in 1904 he became Titular Professor.

Curie later studied magnetism, showing that the magnetic properties of a given substance of a given substance change at a certain temperature; that temperature is now known as the Curie point. To assist in his experiments, he constructed several delicate pieces of apparatus including balances, electrometers, piezoelectric crystals.

Curie's studies of radioactive substances were made together with his wife Marie, also a professor at the Sorbonne, whom he married in 1895. They announced the discovery of radium and polonium by fractionation of pitchblende in 1898 and later did much to elucidate the properties of radium and its transformation products. Their work in this era formed the basis for much of the subsequent research in nuclear physics and chemistry. Together, they were awarded half of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 on account of their study into the spontaneous radiation discovered by Becquerel, who was awarded the other half of the prize. Along with his wife, Curie was awarded the Davy Medal of the Royal Society of London in 1903, and in 1905 he was elected to the Academy of Sciences.

Curie died on April 19, 1906, as a result of a carriage accident in a rainstorm while crossing the rue Dauphine in Paris. Both Pierre and Marie were enshrined in the crypt of the Pantheon in Paris in 1995. Their daughter Irene Joliot-Curie and their son-in-law Frederic Joliot-Curie were also physicists involved in the study of radioactivity.

The curie is a unit of radioactivity originally named in honor of Pierre Curie by the Radiology Congress in 1910, after Curie's death.