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The Warsaw Voice » Destination Warsaw » December 21, 2011
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Sk這dowska-Curie: The Woman Who Launched the Nuclear Age
December 21, 2011   
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Warsaw is not only famous for its chic women, fabulous jazz, modern high-rise buildings, the Old Town, pierogi and vodka. Warsaw is also famous for producing some of the most eminent people who have changed the world. Among them is Marie Sk這dowska-Curie, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist and chemist who was born in Warsaw in 1867.

The Year of Marie Sk這dowska-Curie marked in 2011 gave us a chance to pay tribute to the only woman who has won the Nobel Prize twice—and a famous scientist who launched the nuclear age. At the same time, the focus on Sk這dowska-Curie has encouraged us to rediscover all the beautiful architectural buildings in central Warsaw associated with this remarkable woman.

Many people outside Poland think that Sk這dowska-Curie was French, which is a misconception, just as in the case of composer Frederic Chopin. Marie emigrated to France and was married to a Frenchman but often visited Poland. Chopin, on the other hand, went into exile to France and had a French father, who was more Polish than many Poles.

Sk這dowska-Curie was born on Freta Street (in the New Town), and the reconstructed tenement building, which was destroyed during World War II, today houses the Marie Sk這dowska-Curie Museum, the only biographical museum in the world dedicated to the scientist.

When Poland was under foreign rule, Marie studied at Warsaw’s clandestine “Floating University” that was housed in the Central Agricultural Library, on Krakowskie Przedmie軼ie Street, right next to the baroque St. Anne’s Church. This is where Marie prepared for her exams at the Sorbonne and conducted her chemical experiments. Years later she confessed that “had they not taught me chemical analysis so well in Warsaw [...] I would never have isolated radium.” In 1925, she met with the Polish Chemical and Physical Societies at the neo-renaissance style Polonia House next door.

During her visits to Warsaw, she attended many special events in her honor, including a banquet at the exclusive Bristol Hotel in 1913 and a special function at the elegant Europejski Hotel. The 18th century neo-renaissance style reconstructed Jab這nowski Palace, opposite the Wielki Theater, from early 19th century was used as City Hall. There, in 1925, Sk這dowska-Curie received her Diploma as an Honorary Citizen of Warsaw.

The Mniszech Palace, built in the early 18th century, destroyed during World War II and reconstructed in neo-classical style, today houses the Belgian embassy. In 1913, a banquet was held there in the scientist’s honor.

The University of Warsaw, established in 1816, is another place associated with the famous Nobel Prize winner. Although Sk這dowska-Curie declined to take the Chair of Experimental Physics in 1919, the university awarded her the title of Honorary Professor of the Philosophy Faculty in 1925. The Staszic Palace, built in the 1820s, today houses the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and a statue of astronomer Nicholas Copernicus, unveiled in 1830, adorns the front of it. In 1925, Sk這dowska-Curie delivered a lecture there.

In 1926, the Warsaw University of Technology conferred an honorary doctorate on the two-time Nobel Prize winner. The main building was constructed at the beginning of the 20th century with its facade decorated with neo-baroque and neo-renaissance sculptures. A two-meter statue of Marie Sk這dowska-Curie was unveiled in the main hall in 2005.

Jolanta Wolska
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