What would the perfect day look like for a scientist?
One Sunday in 1906, Marie Curie is working on her research in Paris. What does her Sunday look like, the day after her husband's funeral, taking care of her family as usual and being absorbed in science?
Another busy Paris morning begins. I think about yesterday's farewell for a moment. The person who I shared breakfast with for the past 11 years is not here now.
My husband, Pierre Curie, is lying in the graveyard and sleeping for the last time. But I don't want to think on it for too long. I have a lot of work to do the day after the funeral. I’m going to have to complete a lot of the things we started together by myself.
I hurry up and wash and dress my daughters. I don't know if the children fully understand their father's death. Irene is still nine years old and Eve is only two. I'll go to the lab as soon as the nanny who'll take care of them arrives.
I know that a lot of people talk about me and how I live. Even close colleagues sometimes advise me to spend more time with my children. I've also heard doubts that I really love my family. But they don't know anything and they can't affect me.
Once I get to the lab I know exactly where I'm supposed to be. Just like when I had my husband, I'm going to do research here all day today. Just as when he was here, I'll continue to do my job without him.
You might be surprised to see a truly warehouse-like space that doesn't have proper lighting or any decent furniture. You did such great things here? It is said that this cave, which is attached to the corner of a decent school building like an abandoned house, was once used as an anatomical room for medical students. The chemists who visited here also said it was like a stable or a potato shed.
But what's piled up in the yard here is not potatoes, but an ore called "pitchblende." I found something new, moving these enormous minerals around, melting them over a hot fire, and stirring them with an iron rod. It was a substance that exhibited properties that could not be explained by conventional chemical theories.
So this is where the word radioactivity first came into being. In this old and shabby place, the two of us joined forces to discover a new path for future science. We were happy running like children even before we knew how great it was. Now I have to establish the first order on that road. This time without help. All by myself.
Why do people have to eat? I don't like to waste time on meals. When I was a student, I fainted a few times while skipping meals and focusing on studying.
My favorite foods are bread with butter and hot tea. The tea next to the stove in the lab relieves the cold and hunger.
When I had tea with my husband, we used to talk about experiments as if we were possessed. There was only one interest, and it was a perfect match. It was so wonderful to live with someone who could share a pure and deep passion for science.
I don't like drinking tea alone, so I take only a short break. I have a lot of work to do in order to finish in the lab by 5 o'clock when my nanny leaves.
Time in the lab is calm, but it goes by very quickly. It's almost 5 o'clock, so I roughly organize everything and go home. For the past few years, I've lived an extremely simple life. There was nothing but scientific research and family.
I don't meet friends, I don't go to the theater. I don't even know what the current popular performances are. But I have been really happy and full. The same life always made me happy.
Just like before, only without the father, my family comes together to eat and relax together. There are many people who recognize us when we walk along the street in front of our house. It's because my husband and I won the Nobel Prize three years ago. The French government also offered to support us with a pension while in mourning, but I refused. I can take care of my family by myself.
After putting the kids to sleep, I return to my research. As I organize the experiments and dig up related books and papers, I don't even realize that the blue star of dawn has come to the window. Is it possible to live healthy while devoted to science? I write a diary thinking about the person who will sympathize with this more than anyone else and wrap up the day before it gets too late.
Under the bedside lamp, a bluish light is leaking from the bottle with radium in it. It's a small laboratory ready for me to commence research again at any time. I'm a scientist. I'm still a scientist at night like this, when I’ve lost the one who was my closest companion, my best friend, and my colleague. That's why I keep doing what I have to do.
They filled the grave and put sheaves of flowers on it. Everything is over, Pierre is sleeping his last sleep beneath the earth; it is the end of everything, everything, everything.
I am working in the laboratory all day long, it is all I can do; I am better off there than anywhere else. I conceive of nothing any more that could give me personal joy, except perhaps scientific work–and even there, no, because if I succeeded with it, I would not endure you not to know it..
- 1906. Marie Curie’s Diary