In November 1911, Marie Skłodowska-Curie was weeks away from being awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. She received her first Nobel in 1903 for Physics, and the new award meant that she was the first person ever to receive two Prizes. She remains the only person to be recognized in two different sciences. Though her extraordinary work as a scientist should have been all anyone cared about, it seemed that many were preoccupied with her personal life.
Pierre Curie died in 1906, leaving Marie as a widow. A few years later, she became romantically involved with physicist Paul Langevin, who had been a doctoral student of Pierre’s. Though Langevin was separated from his wife, they were still technically married. The relationship caused troubles in the Langevin home, but that was nothing compared to what was about to spill over into the public eye.
Curie, Langevin, and about 20 other scientists were invited to an elite, invitation-only conference in Brussels in the fall of 1911. During this time, love letters between Curie and Langevin had been given to members of the media by Langevin’s wife, who portrayed Curie as an evil homewrecker. When Curie returned home to France after the conference, she was greeted by a mob that surrounded her house and terrified Curie’s daughters, who were only 7 and 14 years old at the time. Curie and her daughters temporarily moved in with a friend until the scandal died down.
Albert Einstein—who had just recently been introduced to Curie at the Brussels conference—was disgusted by the media’s actions, prompting him to write this letter to his new friend:
Translation: Haters gonna hate.
(Sidenote: “Perrin” refers to Jean Perrin, a family friend of the Curies and Langevins, who defended Curie in the aftermath)
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