Gifts for Mankind: Radioactivity from Madame Curie.


1903 Nobel Prize portrait.
Post by Wanda Smit

Marie Curie, a Polish and naturalised-French physicist and chemist pioneered research in radioactivity. Her achievements included the development of the theory of radioactivity (a term she coined) and the discovery of two elements: Polonium (named after her beloved fatherland) and Radium.

Her discovery of radioactivity would later lead to the treatment of cancer with radiation.

She literally gave her life to science: she died of long-term exposure to radiation.

Born 7 Nov, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland at 12:00 pm. Rodden Rating AA (Astrodatabank).

The Queen of Physics

Marie Curie’s chart looks like a pillar, very upright, with its top spanning the 8th and 9th houses and its base standing firmly on the 2nd and 3rd houses. Marie Curie was indeed a pillar of strength, not only at home, but also in her laboratories.

The Aspect Structures in her chart are numerous – a Kite, a Righteousness Rectangle, a Model which includes Learning Triangles and a Projection Figure, and three linears – but not as numerous as her scientific papers and discoveries, her degrees, prizes, medals and honorary awards.

Her unaspected Mercury in the Radix could have run even more wild in its search for scientific facts, but fortunately was reined in by two trines in the House chart: Uranus in her work, and Neptune in her learning. She was a formidable woman, more than half a century ahead of the Feminists – a great example of someone with 5 planets around the MC, the highest point in a chart. In 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon in Paris.

House chart

Because her Radix and House charts differ greatly, this article focuses on aspects common to both nature and nurture: the two oppositions running through her core which involve her strongest ego planets: the Sun (12) and the Moon (7).

While I was reading her biography, written by her younger daughter Eve Curie, I had a strong sense of Marie’s tremendous sense of duty. Her Cardinal score is 18, but the environment expected her to do more as suggested by the overwhelming score of 61! And she never failed to do so. When she was 65 – a year before her death – she was still working 12-14 hours a day in her laboratory.

But first some background on this great woman.

Born in Warsaw, she was the fifth and youngest child of well-known teachers. Her atheistic father taught mathematics and physics. He played a leading role in her life as her strong Sun suggests. (Much like Zeus, whose daughter Athena, was not born from her mother’s body, but from her father’s head.). She was an extremely bright child, able to read years before pre-school education.

Her close-knit family had lost all their financial security through patriotic involvements in Polish national uprisings. Consequently, the children had few opportunities to get ahead in life. When the ruling Russians scrapped laboratory instruction from the syllabus in schools, her father brought the laboratory equipment home in 1874, and showed his children how to use it. This was Marie’s introduction to laboratories which would become her most sacred spaces. It is also a good reflection of her Age Point putting her powerful Sun opposed by secretive Pluto into top gear.

Marie’s mother died of TB when she was ten. This was during the low point of the 2nd house. Fortunately – in the same year (1877) – her Age Point trined the Sun and facilitated her entry into a boarding school. She then went to a gymnasium for girls, from which she graduated in 1883 with a gold medal.  It would be the first in a long list of awards throughout her life.

The low point of the 3rd house followed shortly afterwards when she was unable to enrol in a regular institution of higher education because she was a woman. Her Age Point was opposing the Sun in 1885, as if her powerful mind did not matter. But it was also conjoining Pluto and this energy transformed her learning with the clandestine Flying University, a Polish patriotic institution of higher learning which did admit women students. To further their education, she and her older sister Bronisława attended this university. To save money for this sister’s medical studies in Paris, Marie took a position as governess for almost 3 years. She continued to educate herself and attend the Flying University.

At the C1 in 1888, she no longer just studied. She also began her practical scientific training in the Museum of Industry and Agriculture (which the Russians wouldn’t realise was in fact a laboratory, albeit a basic one.) At the C2, thirty-six years later (1925), Marie visited the then independent Poland to participate in a ceremony laying the foundations for Warsaw’s Radium Institute. It is still a major centre of medical research today.

When her Age Point was on the cusp of the 5th house in 1891, Marie left her home and family for Paris. She lived in a garret in the Latin Quarter, but didn’t participate in its famous social scene at all. Her self-expression would come in the form of studies in physics, chemistry and mathematics. She suffered from cold winters and occasionally fainted from hunger, but continued studying during the day at the University of Paris and tutoring evenings, barely earning her keep. The Mercury opposition in 1892 suggests that her learning was not made easy by this state of affairs.

In 1893, she was awarded a degree in Physics and began work in an industrial laboratory. Meanwhile, she continued studying at the University of Paris and earned a second degree in Chemistry in 1894 when her North Node at the top end of the Kite was activated, as if she were taking off for great – and ever greater – heights. The square to her North Node, and the semisextile her Age Point formed with Uranus in the 6th house of work in the same year gave her the energy to forge ahead in her unexpected discoveries.

Then she met Pierre Curie, an instructor at the School of Physics and Chemistry of Paris. Their interest in natural sciences drew them together. He was the perfect representation of her Mars in the 10th house. (And a year or two before the Age Point/Mars conjunction, she wrote a biography in honour of him, titled Pierre Curie.)

It was their passion for science that led to the love of their lives. At first, Marie didn’t want to marry as she intended returning to Poland. But back in Poland in 1894, she couldn’t be accepted at Kraków University because she was a woman and thus returned to France.

Pierre and Marie Curie in the laboratory.

In 1895 they were married in Sceaux (Seine), without any religious service. The dark blue outfit she wore as a bridal gown would give her years of service as a laboratory outfit. They shared two pastimes: long bicycle trips and journeys abroad, which brought them even closer. In Pierre, the Venus in Marie had found her Mars.

She shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with him and the physicist Henri Becquerel (who had initiated the study of elements emitting rays). In 1922, she won another Nobel Prize, this time in Chemistry.

The Two Oppositions

1.The Sun and Pluto

This opposition lies on the Learning Axis and pulled Marie in two directions. Her Sun is just before the MC, the highest point of the chart, as if her exceptionally strong mental ego was straining to be an authority in her area. And it succeeded by winning two Nobel Prizes, thus making her the first woman to win such a highly esteemed prize and the only person to win it twice. Over the years she would become the most celebrated female intellectual in the world.

At the other end of the opposition we find Pluto just before the IC, the lowest point in the chart. Marie didn’t only transform scientific learning with her discovery of radium, but also left her family and country as women were not allowed to go to university in Warsaw.

Her Venus conjunct Saturn, also in the 10th house, could get all the status she desired, but she was against all forms of fame and fortune. Her disregard for fashion was evident in the plain clothes she always wore. The Great Teacher was too close for comfort to her Venus and thus Marie would not enjoy a physical supremacy, but a supremacy in Physics. Both of these energies would be constantly fired up by an adventurous 2nd-house Jupiter, making their most prized values discoveries in Physics.

She and her husband decided not to patent the discovery of radioactivity or radium although they could have done with more money. She said radium belonged to mankind, not to her. Later in life when she visited America (and other countries), she refused the fame journalists and well-wishers wanted to give her. She would always be as upright as the pillar in her chart. Albert Einstein reportedly remarked:

She was probably the only person who could not be corrupted by fame.

2. The Moon and the North Node

This opposition lies on the Possession Axis, both sides are in intercepted signs, but in the Radix and House Chart there are blue aspects to provide a way out for the Moon, for her emotional ego. It is her second strongest ego planet and it was constantly opposed by her North Node in the 8th house. She would have to take possession of her emotions – which the blue aspects enveloping the oppositions in the Righteousness Rectangle in her Radix enabled – if she wanted to remain on the right path for her soul.

The only thing she ever kept for herself was the first gramme of radium she had isolated. Soon after the war started, she attempted to donate her gold Nobel Prize medals to the war effort but the French National Bank refused to accept them. She could however buy war bonds, using her Nobel Prize money. She said: “I am going to give up the little gold I possess. I shall add to this the scientific medals, which are quite useless to me.”

Other than in nature and in her letters to her family, Marie didn’t show much emotion. This is astounding as she has a tidal wave of water (-52!) in her nature and a not big enough surplus in fire (-2) to evaporate some of the emotional element in her, perhaps even melt her heart. Her biographer daughter puts it thus: “…conversations on love were never real exchanges.(…) Her judgments and her philosophies remained obstinately impersonal.” Perhaps she intuited that if her emotions flowed freely, the Kite wouldn’t soar.

Even when the cranium of her brilliant husband was fatally crushed under the wheels of a horse-drawn carriage, she showed no emotion. Says her biographer: “The interior tumult that lacerated Marie, the nameless horror of her wandering ideas, were too virulent to be expressed in complaints or confidences. From the moment when those three words, “Pierre is dead”, reached her consciousness, a cape of solitude and secrecy fell upon her shoulders for ever.”

In 1896, when her Moon was fired up, she was expecting a child, her daughter Irene, born the following year. (Irene would also win a Nobel Prize later in life.)

With her Age Point on the cusp of the 6th house of work, Marie began teaching to support her family. But her real work was doing research after hours in a laboratory – a converted shed with no ventilation. She did not yet know of the deleterious effects of radiation exposure.  

Her discoveries were so exciting that Pierre joined her in her search for substances that emit rays for which they had to process tons of ore. Using an electrometer invented by him and his brother fifteen years earlier, Marie could measure the electric current in rays emitted by different substances.

While her Age Point was traversing the 6th house, she and Pierre published, jointly or separately, a total of 32 scientific papers, including one that announced that, when exposed to radium, diseased cells were destroyed faster than healthy cells. Upon Pierre Curie’s complaint, the University of Paris agreed to furnish a new laboratory, but it would not be ready until 1906 – the year he died. That same year the University of Paris decided to offer Marie the chair that had been created for her late husband. She accepted it, hoping to make it a world-class laboratory as a tribute to her Mars. She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris.

In 1910, when both her Sun and Pluto were highly activated by her Age Point moving through the 8th house, she finally succeeded in isolating radium. She also defined an international standard for radioactive emissions.

Curie in a mobile X-ray vehicle

And her gifts for mankind didn’t end there. In the first year of the war, after a quick study of radiology, anatomy and automotive mechanics, she procured X-ray equipment, vehicles and auxiliary generators to develop 20 mobile radiography units, followed by 200 radiological units at field hospitals. This enabled treatment of over a million wounded soldiers.

After the war, when her Age Point was moving through the 9th house, she travelled to the USA where she was highly acclaimed. She disliked not being in her laboratory doing her work, and the attendant publicity exhausted her, but it provided resources for her research. Her second American tour, in 1929, succeeded in equipping the Warsaw Radium Institute with radium. (The Institute opened in 1932, with her sister Bronisława as its director.)

When her Age Point was approaching the 10th house, the honorary awards started pouring in and she became a fellow of several Academies. Then with her Age Point just after the 10th-house cusp, she was elected to the League of Nations‘ newly created International Committee on Intellectual Cooperation.

In her later years, while her Age Point was traversing the 11th house, she spent her days with like-minded people at the Radium Institute (now Curie Institute) a radioactivity laboratory created for her by the Pasteur Institute and the University of Paris. Led by Marie, the Institute would later produce four more Nobel Prize winners, including her daughter Irène Joliot-Curie and her son-in-law, Frédéric Joliot-Curie.

In 1934, aged 66, she died in France. Her book Radioactivity was published posthumously in 1935.

Featured picture of Marie Curie when she gained Nobel Prize for Chemistry. From Fotograv. – Generalstabens Litografiska Anstalt Stockholm, via Wikimedia Commons