10 Radiant Facts About Marie Curie

Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Curie: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock
Photo Illustration by Mental Floss. Curie: Hulton Archive, Getty Images. Background: iStock

Born Maria Salomea Skłodowska in Poland in 1867, Marie Curie grew up to become one of the most noteworthy scientists of all time. Her long list of accolades is proof of her far-reaching influence, but not every stride she made in the fields of chemistry, physics, and medicine was recognized with an award. Here are some facts you might not know about the iconic researcher.

1. HER PARENTS WERE TEACHERS.

Maria Skłodowska was the fifth and youngest child of two Polish educators. Her parents placed a high value on learning and insisted all their children—even their daughters—receive a quality education at home and at school. Maria received extra science training from her father, and when she graduated from high school at age 15, she was first in her class.

2. SHE HAD TO SEEK OUT ALTERNATIVE EDUCATION FOR WOMEN.

After collecting her high school diploma, Maria had hoped to study at the University of Warsaw with her sister, Bronia. Because the school didn't accept women, the siblings instead enrolled at the Flying University, a Polish college that welcomed female students. It was still illegal for women to receive higher education at the time so the institution was constantly changing locations to avoid detection from authorities. In 1891 she moved to Paris to live with her sister, where she enrolled at the Sorbonne to continue her education.

3. SHE'S THE ONLY PERSON TO WIN NOBEL PRIZES IN TWO SEPARATE SCIENCES.

Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, in 1902.
Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, in 1902.
Agence France Presse, Getty Images

In 1903, Marie Curie made history when she won the Nobel Prize in physics with her husband, Pierre, and with physicist Henri Becquerel for their work on radioactivity, making her the first woman to receive the honor. The second Nobel Prize she took home in 1911 was even more historic. With that win in the chemistry category, she became the first person of any gender to win the award twice. She remains the only person to ever receive Nobel Prizes for two different sciences.

4. SHE ADDED TWO ELEMENTS TO THE PERIODIC TABLE.

The second Nobel Prize she received recognized her discovery and research of two elements: radium and polonium. The former element was named for the Latin word for "ray" and the latter was a nod to her home country, Poland.

5. NOBEL PRIZE-WINNING RUNS IN HER FAMILY.

Marie Curie's daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, circa 1940.
Marie Curie's daughter Irène Joliot-Curie, and her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, circa 1940.
Central Press, Hulton Archive // Getty Images

When Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, won their Nobel Prize in 1903, their daughter Irène was only 6 years old. She would grow up to follow in her parents' footsteps by jointly winning the Nobel Prize for chemistry with her husband, Frédéric Joliot-Curie, in 1935. They were recognized for their discovery of "artificial" radioactivity, a breakthrough made possible by Irène's parents years earlier. Marie and Pierre's other son-in-law, Henry Labouisse, who married their younger daughter, Ève Curie, accepted a Nobel Prize for Peace on behalf of UNICEF, of which he was the executive director, in 1965. This brought the family's total up to five.

6. SHE DID HER MOST IMPORTANT WORK IN A SHED.

The research that won Marie Curie her first Nobel Prize required hours of physical labor. In order to prove they had discovered new elements, she and her husband had to produce numerous examples of them by breaking down ore into its chemical components. Their regular labs weren't big enough to accommodate the process, so they moved their work into an old shed behind the school where Pierre worked. According to Curie, the space was a hothouse in the summer and drafty in the winter, with a glass roof that didn't fully protect them from the rain. After the famed German chemist Wilhelm Ostwald visited the Curies' shed to see the place where radium was discovered, he described it as being "a cross between a stable and a potato shed, and if I had not seen the worktable and items of chemical apparatus, I would have thought that I was been played a practical joke."

7. HER NOTEBOOKS ARE STILL RADIOACTIVE.

Marie Curie's journals
Hulton Archive, Getty Images

When Marie was performing her most important research on radiation in the early 20th century, she had no idea the effects it would have on her health. It wasn't unusual for her to walk around her lab with bottles of polonium and radium in her pockets. She even described storing the radioactive material out in the open in her autobiography. "One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products[…] The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."

It's no surprise then that Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia, likely caused by prolonged exposure to radiation, in 1934. Even her notebooks are still radioactive a century later. Today they're stored in lead-lined boxes, and will likely remain radioactive for another 1500 years.

8. SHE OFFERED TO DONATE HER MEDALS TO THE WAR EFFORT.

Marie Curie had only been a double-Nobel Laureate for a few years when she considered parting ways with her medals. At the start of World War I, France put out a call for gold to fund the war effort, so Curie offered to have her two medals melted down. When bank officials refused to accept them, she settled for donating her prize money to purchase war bonds.

9. SHE DEVELOPED A PORTABLE X-RAY TO TREAT SOLDIERS.

Marie Curie circa 1930
Marie Curie, circa 1930.
Keystone, Getty Images

Her desire to help her adopted country fight the new war didn't end there. After making the donation, she developed an interest in x-rays—not a far jump from her previous work with radium—and it didn't take her long to realize that the emerging technology could be used to aid soldiers on the battlefield. Curie convinced the French government to name her Director of the Red Cross Radiology Service and persuaded her wealthy friends to fund her idea for a mobile x-ray machine. She learned to drive and operate the vehicle herself and treated wounded soldiers at the Battle of the Marne, ignoring protests from skeptical military doctors. Her invention was proven effective at saving lives, and ultimately 20 "petite Curies," as the x-ray machines were called, were built for the war.

10. SHE FOUNDED CENTERS FOR MEDICAL RESEARCH.

Following World War I, Marie Curie embarked on a different fundraising mission, this time with the goal of supporting her research centers in Paris and Warsaw. Curie's radium institutes were the site of important work, like the discovery of a new element, francium, by Marguerite Perey, and the development of artificial radioactivity by Irène and Frederic Joliot-Curie. The centers, now known as Institut Curie, are still used as spaces for vital cancer treatment research today.

20 Surprising Facts About Pulp Fiction

Miramax
Miramax

On October 14, 1994, Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction was released in theaters in America and a new Hollywood auteur was born. In addition to teaching Americans what a Quarter Pounder with Cheese is called in Europe, the film reignited the career of John Travolta (who received a Best Actor Oscar nomination for his work) and showed audiences a different side of Bruce Willis. In honor of the film's anniversary, here are 20 things you might not have known about Pulp Fiction.

1. THE FILM WAS RELEASED IN SOUTH KOREA, JAPAN, AND EVEN SLOVAKIA BEFORE IT ARRIVED IN AMERICA.

Tarantino’s film first played the Cannes Film Festival in May 1994. It was shown at other festivals around the world, from Munich to Locarno, before hitting American shores on September 23, 1994, at the New York Film Festival. The film was released in South Korea, Japan, and Slovakia before it officially opened in the U.S. on October 14, 1994. The feature rolled out across Asia and Europe throughout 1994 and 1995.

2. HONEY BUNNY WAS NAMED AFTER AN ACTUAL RABBIT.

Honey Bunny belonged to Linda Chen, who typed up Tarantino's handwritten script for Pulp Fiction. In lieu of payment, she asked Tarantino to watch her rabbit when she went on location; Tarantino wouldn't do it, and when the rabbit later died, he named Amanda Plummer's character after Chen's pet.

3. YOU CAN WATCH THE FILM CHRONOLOGICALLY ... KIND OF.

The narrative structure of the film plays out of sequence, but it’s easy enough to break it down into seven distinct sections (a prologue, an epilogue, two preludes, and three large segments) that can then be re-ordered into a chronological narrative (Hint: The first prelude, to the “Gold Watch” section, plays first. If that doesn’t help, here’s an infographic).

4. THE FILM CONTAINS 265 “F WORDS.”

Even that hefty number isn’t Tarantino’s highest (1992’s Reservoir Dogs used it 269 times). Still, the film was the big “f word” winner of 1994, as no other film released that year even came close to that amount of profanity.

5. VINCENT VEGA’S 1964 CHEVELLE MALIBU WAS STOLEN AFTER THE SHOOT.

John Travolta’s character in the film had a sweet ride—which, in real life, belonged to Tarantino—and it was such a hot rod that it was stolen soon after the film’s release. It wasn’t found for nearly two decades, when two cops happened on a pair of kids stripping an older car. After running the Vehicle Identification Number, they found it shared the number with a car in Oakland, which turned out to be Tarantino’s car.

6. THE MOVIE COST ONLY $8.5 MILLION TO MAKE.

Five million went to the actors’ salaries. It made that all back in its first week at the U.S. box office (the film pulled in $9.3 million the first weekend of release).

7. THE FILM WAS THE THIRD BIGGEST R-RATED EARNER OF 1994.

The film lost out on the title to True Lies ($146.2 million) and Speed ($121.2 million). The film’s earnings were strong enough to place it in the overall top 10 for the year, though 1994 was dominated by Forrest Gump, which made $329.6 million that year.

8. EVEN THOUGH THE FILM MADE OVER $100 MILLION, IT TOOK A LONG TIME TO GET THERE.

Even though Tarantino’s film ended up being a tremendous hit—especially considering that slim budget—it took some time to get there. The film was in release for 178 days before it finally pulled in 100 million domestic dollars. A little comparison? It took Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2 only two days.

9. VINCENT VEGA WAS WRITTEN FOR MICHAEL MADSEN ...

Tarantino specifically wrote a number of roles in the film for chosen actors (including Samuel L. Jackson, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, and Amanda Plummer), but nothing compared to his dedication to having Michael Madsen play Vince. Madsen, who knew of Tarantino’s plans and said he wanted to do the part, dropped out two weeks before the script was finished to star in Wyatt Earp.

10. ... WHICH COULD HAVE MADE HIM MR. BLONDE’S TWIN.

Tarantino has a long tradition of connecting characters in his various films—basically, the filmmaker is working with a number of sprawling family trees, and it’s always a treat to see how characters intersect—which would have made Madsen’s casting of Vince come with a surprising twist: it might have made him Mr. Blonde’s (Madsen’s character from Reservoir Dogs) twin, as it’s long been known that Vince and Blonde are brothers.

11. IT INSPIRED TOP GEAR’S STIG.

The mysterious, anonymous Stig was inspired by the mysterious, anonymous Gimp. The Gimp was even the original name for the Stig, until they couldn’t find a racing driver willing to use that name.

12. BUTCH WAS SUPPOSED TO BE A LOT YOUNGER.

Tarantino wrote the part as a young boxer, with Matt Dillon specifically in mind for the role, but when the actor took too much time considering the part, it was tweaked slightly to accommodate Bruce Willis (who was a little ticked that he wasn’t asked to play Vincent).

13. TARANTINO LOVES VINTAGE BOARD GAMES, AND IT SHOWS.

The filmmaker is an avid board game collector, which is why the film features Operation and The Game of Life. Tarantino convinced Travolta to come on board with an all-day Welcome Back, Kotter, Grease, and Saturday Night Fever board game marathon.

14. VINCENT’S PREFERRED READING MATERIAL IS REAL.

Vince loves reading pulp fiction books during his, ahem, private time, including Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise, a real pulp fiction novel based on O’Donnell’s '60s comic strip. Tarantino has long expressed interest in bringing that tale to the big screen, including giving his official license to the 2003 film (Quentin Tarantino Presents) My Name is Modesty.

15. DESPITE TARANTINO’S LOVE FOR UMA THURMAN, SHE WASN’T HIS FIRST PICK.

Other possible Mias? Isabella Rossellini, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Meg Ryan, Alfre Woodard, Halle Berry, Daryl Hannah, Rosanna Arquette, Joan Cusack, and Michelle Pfeiffer. Tarantino’s original favorite was supposedly Pfeiffer.

16. THE ORIGINAL POSTER CAN FETCH YOU SEVERAL HUNDRED DOLLARS.

The first poster had Thurman smoking from a box of Lucky Strike cigarettes—but Miramax hadn’t licensed usage rights from Lucky Strikes, who threatened to sue. Rather than fight it, Miramax had the posters returned. Those that survived can now command big money.

17. JULES MAY HAVE BEEN WRITTEN FOR SAMUEL L. JACKSON, BUT HE ALMOST LOST THE PART.

Tarantino very much had Jackson in mind for the role of Jules, but when he auditioned Paul Calderon, he was so struck by the performance that he very nearly hired him. Jackson, desperate to get “his” role back, flew to Los Angeles and auditioned for Tarantino again.

18. CAPTAIN KOONS MIGHT HAVE A FAMOUS RELATIVE.

Well, famous in the Tarantino universe, anyway: It’s widely believed that Christopher Walken’s Captain Koons is a descendent of Django Unchained character Crazy Craig Koons, who is only mentioned by name in a Wanted poster.

19. ROBERT RODRIGUEZ DIRECTED PARTS OF THE FILM.

When Tarantino is on screen as Jimmie, someone else had to be behind the camera—and that someone was Robert Rodriguez. The pair later teamed up for a number of other projects, including From Dusk Till Dawn and Grindhouse.

20. TRAVOLTA DIDN’T REALLY INJECT THURMAN IN THAT SCENE.

The infamous scene in which Mia is stabbed with a very necessary adrenaline shot was stressful enough, so Tarantino took off some of the pressure: the needle was inserted, and then Travolta pulled it out. The scene was reversed in post-production so it looks as if Vincent Vega really is plunging that syringe into her. Movie magic!

Additional Sources: Short List; Box Office Mojo (1, 2)

This article originally ran in 2015.

Aaugh! 10 Facts About It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown

Warner Home Video
Warner Home Video

Lee Mendelson hadn’t planned on a career in animation. But when television sponsors saw the filmmaker’s documentary about cartoonist Charles Schulz, they asked if the two could team up to produce a Christmas special based on Schulz’s Peanuts strip. The result, A Charlie Brown Christmas, was seen by roughly half of all households watching television during its premiere on CBS on December 9, 1965.

Mendelson went on to produce other Peanuts primetime specials, but 1966’s It’s the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown remains one of the most endearing. As you prepare annual sympathy for poor ol' Chuck (“I got a rock”), check out some facts about naked composers, vomiting voice actors, and CBS’s bizarre ultimatum.

1. THE FUTURE OF ANIMATED PEANUTS SPECIALS DEPENDED ON IT.  


Warner Home Video

Mendelson and animator Bill Melendez had very high aspirations for A Charlie Brown Christmas. When they screened it prior to its premiere, however, they felt it didn’t live up to its potential—and CBS agreed. The network said it was the last Peanuts special they would buy. But after it delivered huge ratings, CBS changed their mind and asked for more. When the two delivered another hit—the baseball-themed Charlie Brown All-Stars—they thought they had earned the network’s confidence.

Instead, CBS told them they needed a special that could run every year, like A Charlie Brown Christmas. If Mendelson couldn’t provide it, they told him they might not pick up an option for a fourth show. Despite Schulz and his collaborators being annoyed by the network's abrasive attitude, they hammered out a story with a seasonal clothesline that could be rerun in perpetuity.   

2. THE VOICE OF VIOLET PUKED AFTER EVERY RECORDING SESSION.

It’s standard practice these days to use adult actors to mimic juvenile cartoon characters: adults are (presumably) better able to take direction and deliver a performance in line with the director’s wishes. But for many Peanuts specials, children were used to voice Charlie Brown, Lucy, Linus, and the rest. Anne Altieri, who portrayed both Violet and Frieda, was so nervous to be part of the show that she threw up every time she was done with a recording session.

3. IT WAS THE FIRST TIME LUCY SNATCHED THE FOOTBALL FROM CHARLIE BROWN.

In animated form, anyway. When Schulz, Mendelson, and Melendez were brainstorming scene ideas for the special, talk turned to the fact that Lucy’s habit of pulling the football away from Charlie Brown had never been seen in animation. They also decided it would be a good time to introduce Snoopy’s World War I Flying Ace. The joke had appeared in the strip, but Mendelson thought it would work even better in motion. He was right: the sequence with Snoopy in a doghouse dogfight is one of the most memorable in the Peanuts animated canon.

4. IT’S SECRETLY ABOUT SANTA.

The Great Pumpkin saga was adapted from Schulz’s newspaper strip, where he had conceived it as a metaphor for some of the hope (and disappointment) associated with Saint Nick. Schulz disliked the idea kids heard of a jolly fat man who delivered presents all over the world when he knew many families could only afford one or two gifts for the holidays. “The Great Pumpkin is really kind of a satire on Santa Claus,” he told Mendelson. “When [he] doesn’t come, Linus is crushed.”

5. THE MUSIC COMPOSER WAS FOUND NAKED BY COPS.


Warner Home Video

The jazzy scores of the early Peanuts specials were the work of composer Vince Guaraldi. When he was busy putting together “The Great Pumpkin Waltz” for the show, he decided to break for a shower. When he came out, he thought he heard noises outside and went to investigate, naked, and locked himself out in the process. Keyless, Guaraldi tried climbing a ladder to a second-floor window when cops spotted him. “Don’t shoot,” he said. “I’m the Great Pumpkin.” Police, who were many months away from getting the joke, let him back inside.  

6. A LISP ALMOST RUINED THE SHOW.

Kathy Steinberg was only four years old when she portrayed Sally for the first time in A Charlie Brown Christmas: her big break came when Mendelson, her neighbor, started work on the specials. While Steinberg had some limitations—like being too young to know how to read a script—things were going well until producers realized she was on the verge of losing a tooth. Fearing a lisp would ruin the voiceover work, they rushed to get her lines done. The day after finishing, the tooth fell out.  

7. KIDS SENT CHARLIE BROWN CANDY FOR YEARS.

One of the most poignant moments of any Peanuts cartoon comes when downtrodden Charlie Brown opens his Halloween goodie sack and discovers he’s been given rocks instead of candy. According to Schulz, this so angered viewers that for years his California office was inundated with sacks of treats addressed to the character.

8. THE ORIGINAL AIRINGS WERE SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT.

Production costs for the early Charlie Brown specials were subsidized by television sponsors Coca-Cola and Dolly Madison snack cakes: the brands appear at the beginning and end of the broadcast. The Coke “bug” appeared for several years before getting phased out. 

9. CBS GOT A LITTLE SALTY ABOUT LOSING THE RIGHTS.

After spending decades at CBS, the rights to three holiday Peanuts installments went up for grabs in 2000. Though CBS could make the first offer, it was ABC who made the winning bid. Privately, CBS executives were not at all pleased about the business decision to take the football away. “It's a shame that a few more dollars meant more to them than years of tradition and loyalty," one network employee anonymously told Variety

10. SOME SCHOLARS THOUGHT THE GREAT PUMPKIN WAS REAL.


Warner Home Video

A real myth, at any rate. Talking to the Schenectady Gazette in 1968, Schulz said that since the special began airing two years earlier, he had received a number of letters from academics wondering where the Great Pumpkin story had originated. “A number of professional scholars have written me about the origination of the legend,” he said. “They insist it must be based on something.” Schulz suggested they broach the topic with Linus instead.

This article originally ran in 2015.

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