Pierre Curie (15 May 1859 – 19 April 1906) was a French physicalist whose passion for collecting crystals, magnets, small buzzers and elemental isotopes earned him a Nobel Prize in Physical Education. His wife, Maria Sklodowska-Curie and Henri Becquerel begrudgingly shared the prize with him.
Pierre was born in Paris, which is in some country somewhere, and educated by his father. He showed an incredible aptitude for Mathematism and Geomatics, both of which enabled him to perform several backflips following a cartwheel as well as many other physical feats of dazzling brilliance. By the age of 18, immersed in dreams of a glittering career as a circus acrobat, young Pierre was ready to begin training with the esteemed high-flying trapeze artist and paedophile, Jules Léotard. However, Léotard wanted 17 francs, or 800,000 Euros in today’s money and, regretfully lacking the funds, Pierre had to abandon his dreams and go and work in a boring old science laboratory.
To young Pierre, the only things of any interest in science were the inherent and seemingly magical and beautiful properties of crystals and magnets and, like all scientists, it wasn’t long before he was taking absolutely ages to piss around in a childlike manner with these things until something happened, allowing the scientific community to conjecture that something had somehow been discovered. For Pierre, the discovery was that an electrical current seemed to flow more freely through a crystal after he’d smashed it to pieces with a large hammer – something that took him eight years to achieve.
Pierre’s older brother, Jacques, was present when the discovery was made:
- “He was just pissing around with lumps of rock, as usual. Like he has been for years. Then he seemed to lose his temper and smashed one up. Then he tried to electrocute it and the current was so strong it made him scream and jiggle furiously. I laughed because it made him look retarded. Anyway, we found that the current flowed with more potential – we called it pissoelecticity, as Pierre just seemed to be pissing around as usual when he discovered it.”
Pissoelectricity – or Piezoelectricity as it became known due to how it sounded when said in an accent that was very popular in the 19th Century but is now almost universally laughed at – revolutionised the revolutionary fields of the electronics revolution.
It was around this time that Pierre won a scholarship to study at the University of Paris where he was able to continue his scientific research by pissing around until something happened and he was also able to rekindle his love of acrobatics by enrolling with the Cirque de Pathos – an after-school performance club for kids united by their inability to be liked. It was also here that Maria Sklodowska, a flamboyant young student making her mark in the University’s prestigious laboratories, caught Pierre’s eye. Pierre was shy, retiring and socially paralysed by female presence but he is said to have remarked:
- “My word! Look at those kneecaps! She’s an angel, working her way through college like a speeding bicycle! See how the other boys flock and compete for her! Oh what I wouldn’t give to ride in tandem with her amidst those other boys! How will she ever look at me?”
Despite a fear that almost crippled him, Pierre eventually plucked up the courage to approach Marie and within seconds he was able to ascertain that despite much debonair, charm and social sophistication she was incapable of grasping almost anything the college was supposed to be teaching her. Pierre, troubled that she was getting a lot of help from other boys, decided to help her himself. He left his beloved after-school club and began completing her assignments for her instead. He hadn’t been popular at the Cirque de Pathos anyway. As a fellow member remarked:
- “We’re all about tragic moonstruck faces and plucking invisible flowers. Cartwheels and backflips are like, so yesterday. We all like totally hate him.”
Pierre helped Marie for three years without reward and finally, in a scene reminiscent of an earlier tantrum with a hammer, he threatened to smash to pieces and electrocute the very thing he loved – or at least tell the faculty she’d been cheating if she didn’t marry him. Pierre’s blackmail plot worked beautifully and several days later they were wed. Despite Marie’s dedication to the marriage (she stopped pretending to do science and just did the cooking and cleaning at home) the sweet milk of love began to sour. As Pierre noted in his diary just a month after their marriage:
- “By God how I long for rigour and reason when I am not in the laboratory! That woman is little prepared to grasp even the most despairingly mundane of concepts! I fear that if something does not change soon then I shall be forced to move my sleeping quarters to my laboratory just to escape the crushing boredom and her inane twittering! If only she were as adept at stimulating conversation as she is at performing near-acrobatic acts of eye-watering sexual degradation.”
Before long Pierre was immersed back in the important world of science, often staying at his laboratory until midnight in an attempt to just make something happen somehow.
In May 1897, Marie found an old sample of an unknown substance in the couple’s attic and, aware that she wasn’t in any way capable of understanding whether it was something important or not, she took it to her husband. Pierre took it to his laboratory and basically just pissed around with it for almost a year before something happened:
- “I was trying to see if I could get it to land in a cup at the other side of my laboratory by throwing it and by sheer chance it landed on a photographic plate. As it happened, this plate was itself on top of a book called ‘Radiation’ by Henri Becquerel. Immediately I realised that I’d also discovered some of this radiation. When I told Marie she suggested I change it to ‘Radioactivity’ as a way of making it sound like a new thing and maybe winning that prize or something and so I did. I called our little lump of stuff Radium in honour of my dear wife, who never could say radiation properly.”
It is not known why Pierre added his wife’s name to his paper. Some historians think it may have been a joke, others believe it was an act of unbelievable kindness bordering on a nervous breakdown. However, the scientific consensus is that Marie simply added her name to the paper whilst her husband was in the lavatory. Whatever the reason, the ensuing publicity storm caused by the appearance of a woman’s name on a ‘paper of scientific merit’ sent shockwaves around the world, particularly in parts where people had actually met Marie.
The Curies became incredibly wealthy, mainly by patenting radium and then suing large businesses and corporations for having minute traces of it anywhere. However, it wasn’t long before the couple began to argue about the money. Marie wanted to spend their new wealth on clothes, make-up, hair products, shoes, more clothes, and making the house bigger than any of their neighbours’ houses whilst Pierre wanted to start Cirque de Aigles Piquant (Circus of Swooping Eagles) perhaps incorporating a high-flying acrobatics and trapeze school for blind orphans. Like all women, Marie eventually had her way by withholding despicable sexual acts. Bitter, resentful and full of crushing hatred, Pierre became something of a recluse, often refusing to go beyond the borders of their own huge garden where he was frequently seen practising handstands and somersaults. The last time he did leave their home, it proved to be fateful.
On a dark, rainy evening in April 1906, Pierre was nipping to the local mini-mart when he was involved in a hit-and-run accident with a horse-drawn vehicle. Several witnesses witnessed the incident – one confirming that:
- “He was running and then suddenly he just cartwheeled at the roadside and it looked like he was trying to perform a backflip across it to the other side when an oncoming carriage struck him. This caused him to do ten more flips - that must be a record, even if it was by accident.”
Pierre lay at the side of the road slightly bruised and would have survived if the carriage hadn’t backed up and over him three times, crushing his skull in the process. Before anyone could get a look at the driver, the carriage raced off into the night.
In 1995, the Curies were enshrined in the crypt at the Panthéon. Every year thousands of keen students of science pay homage to the body of Marie Curie, and a bit of Pierre Curie’s knee and his left ear, which were all that remained of him after his wife donated his body to ‘The Applications of Whatsoever in the Aid of Scientific Furtherment’ several hours after his death.