Guide Tour of Curie Museum, Paris, France

The Musée Curie is a historical museum focusing on radiological research. It is located in the heart of the “Campus Curie” in the Val-de-Grâce district of the 5th arrondissement, at 1, rue Pierre et Marie Curie, Paris, France. Made up of an exhibition space permanent and an archive centre, it offers the public the opportunity to discover the history of the discovery of radioactivity and its first medical applications with radiotherapy. This museum is a place of memory and knowledge of the history of science.

The museum was established in 1934, after Curie’s death, on the ground floor of the Curie Pavilion of the Institut du Radium. It was formerly Marie Curie’s laboratory, built 1911–1914, and where she performed research from 1914 to 1934. In this laboratory her daughter and son-in-law Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie discovered artificial radioactivity, for which they received the 1935 Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

The museum contains a permanent historical exhibition on radioactivity and its applications, notably in medicine, focusing primarily on the Curies, and displays some of the most important research apparatus used before 1940. It also contains a center for historical resource which holds archives, photographs, and documentation on the Curies, Joliot-Curies, the Institut Curie, and the history of radioactivity and oncology.

Marie Salomea Skłodowska–Curie was a Polish and naturalized-French physicist and chemist who conducted pioneering research on radioactivity. She was the first woman to win a Nobel Prize. In 1895 she married the French physicist Pierre Curie, and she shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with him and with the physicist Henri Becquerel for their pioneering work developing the theory of “radioactivity”. Marie won the 1911 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium, using techniques she invented for isolating radioactive isotopes.

Under her direction, the world’s first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms by the use of radioactive isotopes. In 1920 she founded the Curie Institute in Paris, and in 1932 the Curie Institute in Warsaw; both remain major centres of medical research. During World War I she developed mobile radiography units to provide X-ray services to field hospitals.

Marie Curie died in 1934, aged 66, at the Sancellemoz sanatorium in Passy (Haute-Savoie), France, of aplastic anemia from exposure to radiation in the course of her scientific research and in the course of her radiological work at field hospitals during World War I.

In addition to her Nobel Prizes, She has received numerous other honours and tributes. She was the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. In 1995 she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in Paris’ Panthéon, and Poland declared 2011 the Year of Marie Curie during the International Year of Chemistry.

The Museum
The Curie Museum is located in one of the former buildings of the Radium Institute. Several spaces have been preserved: Marie Curie’s office and chemistry laboratory in the Curie Pavilion, and the garden of the Radium Institute. These historic places can be visited today, and retain the atmosphere of a research laboratory from the interwar period.

The Radium Institute was inaugurated in July 1914, on the eve of the First World War. It comprises two buildings facing each other. On one side, the Pasteur pavilion, directed by his friend, Professor Claudius Regaud and which houses a biological research laboratory on the medical applications of radiation, under the supervision of the Institut Pasteur, on the other, the Curie pavilion, directed by Marie Curie and which houses her laboratory, specialized in the chemical and physical study of radiation, and placed under the supervision of the University of Paris.

Today, Marie Curie’s office and her personal chemistry laboratory are preserved. They constitute the historical heart of the museum within the Institut Curie.

In 1934 in this same laboratory, Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie discovered so-called artificial radioactivity for which they received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry the following year. After the death of Frédéric Joliot in 1958, the directors of the Curie laboratory wanted to keep the director’s office as it was; office which was occupied successively by Marie Curie (1914 to 1934), André Debierne (1935 to 1945), Irène Joliot-Curie (1945 to 1956), and finally by Frédéric Joliot.

Marie Curie’s office
The office of Marie Curie, and of the directors who succeeded her, André Debierne, Irène then Frédéric Joliot-Curie, is one of the two rooms in the building to have been preserved as it was. In the museum, visitors can discover Marie Curie’s desk, chair and library in the very place where she had chosen to place them.

Marie Curie’s rest room
This room allows Marie Curie to eat and rest on site. Like all the rooms assigned to the director, her daughter Irène occupied it when she was director from 1946 to 1956. In 1965 this room was transformed into an archive room then, from 1996, attached to the museum exhibition.

The chemistry laboratory of marie curie
The chemistry laboratory housed Marie Curie’s research on radioactivity for nearly 20 years, from 1915 until 1934. It was then invested by the directors who succeeded, until 1958. After decades of use, the place, contaminated by radioactivity, was decontaminated in 1981. Some of the original furniture and objects were dumped. The chemistry laboratory today is the result of a reconstruction made from period equipment and recreated furniture. It can be discovered without fear by thousands of visitors.

The principal’s physics room
Piezoelectric quartz, an invention of the brothers Jacques and Pierre Curie, is on display in a display case in the center of the museum, along with all the instruments making up the Curie method for measuring radioactivity. This showcase is located where Marie Curie’s physics laboratory was formerly located, on the very site of the table where the scientist measured radioactivity.

The scales and measures room
The two tables of the Curie laboratory’s measurement department have now been replaced by a digital table allowing you to consult photos, documents and videos on the life and work of the members of the “family with 5 Nobel prizes”.

The ground floor of the curie pavilion
The ground floor of the Pavillon Curie was completely refurbished in 2012. Only certain emblematic rooms have been preserved: the chemistry laboratory, the office and the amphitheater where Marie Curie gave university courses. Other service and laboratory rooms have since disappeared, in particular to make way for the activities of the Curie Museum and the Institut Curie laboratories.

The Garden
At the Curie Museum it is also possible to visit the garden behind the museum that Marie Curie created during the first construction works of the buildings of the Radium Institute. You can discover the works of the street artist C215 scattered on the facade and in the garden: these are 11 portraits of the Curies, Joliot-Curies and some of their close collaborators and two symbolic representations of the atom.

To explore the small square of greenery behind Marie Curie’s laboratory. Sitting on a bench under the lime trees, smelling the “Marie Curie roses”. Marie Curie appears leaning on the balustrade of the terrace of her chemistry laboratory, contemplating her flowerbeds and the foliage of her young trees. The physicist watched over this garden throughout her life until 1934, and even ordered flowers directly from Holland to decorate it.

Located between physics-chemistry, medicine and biology laboratories, this garden now occupies a special place within the Institut Curie. The current garden is truly faithful to what Marie Curie had made of it. It is an English-style garden, supple, hazy, wild, rural. It stays green and alive, whatever the season. There are not too many flowers and small plants like honeysuckle are preferred. Which doesn’t prevent it from being magnificent in mid-season when the daffodils and climbing roses are in bloom.

This garden was officially named Jardin Marie Curie in 2017 on the occasion of the commemoration of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Marie Curie.

In the Marie Curie garden, discover the works of street artist C215. These are 11 portraits scattered all around the museum, representing Marie and Pierre Curie, Frédéric and Irène Joliot-Curie, Eve Curie-Labouisse and also the other directors such as André Debierne, director of the Curie laboratory after Marie Curie, or Claudius Regaud, Antoine Lacassagne and again Raymond Latarjet, successive directors of the Pasteur laboratory at the Radium Institute.

At the heart of the garden stands a bust of Pierre and Marie Curie. It was Irène Joliot-Curie who asked a Polish sculptor from Krakow, Maria Kwietniewska, to create a bust of her parents in 1950. Then, it was donated by Poland to the Radium Institute in Paris. It was at the foot of this bust that President François Hollande came to lay a wreath of flowers in May 2012, in his tribute to Marie Curie when she took office.

In 1997, the rose designer Meilland created the Marie Curie rosebush to pay homage to this “ great lady of science ”. It is a rose bush with a very light orange color edged in pale pink, with dense dark green foliage. Its very fragrant fragrance is subtle and spicy with hints of clove. It flowers abundantly in the garden of the Curie Museum from May to the first frosts.

From 2012 to 2016, the museum invested the garden as a place of temporary exhibition on themes related to the Institut Curie, to allow visitors to understand the contemporary reality of scientific research, put into perspective with the history of science. In 2012, our first exhibition “the garden of Marie Curie, yesterday and today”, showed photographs evoking life in this garden from the time of Marie Curie, through the period of Joliot-Curie and the 1960s, supplemented by more current photos taken especially for this hanging in the open air.

The archives and instruments of the Curie laboratory have been preserved and classified. The collection of objects, documents and archives of Marie Curie, André Debierne, Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie has been enriched thanks to donations from the family and the action of the Curie Association and Joliot-Curie. The museum’s collections relate to the history of radioactivity and its first medical applications. The archive center keeps many documents on the Curie and Joliot-Curie family, as well as on their collaborators.

Permanent exhibition
Located in the last laboratory run by Marie Curie, the Curie Museum combines new technologies, archival documents and old objects in a 120 m 2 space, renovated in 2012. You will discover Marie Curie’s office and laboratory, the history of radioactivity and radiotherapy, as well as the different stages of the scientific discoveries of the Curies and the Joliot-Curies, the family with five Nobel prizes.

The family with five nobel prizes
Within the same family, Pierre and Marie Curie, their eldest daughter Irène and her husband Frédéric Joliot-Curie have all received the Nobel Prize at least once. Marie Curie remains the only woman to date to have received two, and the only person to have had two in two different scientific disciplines. Their discoveries in the field of radioactivity were founding disciplines studying the atom, and paved the way for numerous medical applications of radioactivity. Thanks to an interactive multi-touch table present in this section of the museum, several users can simultaneously manipulate and consult archival photographs, documents and films illustrating the life and work of “the family with five Nobel Prizes”, the all placed chronologically.

Radium, between myth and reality
At the start of the 20th century, the properties of radium, a chemical element discovered by Pierre and Marie Curie in 1898, were perceived by the public as extraordinary, even magical. They inspire writers and artists, but also traders from all walks of life who sell health products, anti-wrinkle creams, mineral waters, based on radium! At this time, radium crystallizes all hopes and dreams. The craze is of course due to the history of its discoverers, even more so to its blue-green luminescence, but also to the prospects it offers for treating cancers. This section therefore looks back on the history of the craze for this element, before the awareness of its dangers and its harmful effects on health. Panels and objects from the period illustrate this phenomenon.

The curie laboratory, between physics and chemistry
In the 1930s, the Curie laboratory, directed by Marie Curie, was an internationally renowned research center specializing in the study of radioactivity, a science at the crossroads of physics and chemistry. It was in this same laboratory that Irène and Frédéric Joliot-Curie discovered artificial radioactivity in 1934, which earned them the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1935. In a central showcase are presented restored instruments of the Curie Method, a method of measurement of radioactivity developed by Pierre and Marie Curie in 1898. This section also presents the chemistry laboratory and the office occupied by Marie Curie during the last twenty years of her life. In addition, in a showcase you can discover some of his original archives.

The curie foundation: treating cancer
The Radium Institute is made up of a second biology and medicine laboratory. Led by Dr. Claudius Regaud, a panel retraces the career of this radiotherapy pioneer, while a display case displays reproductions of his cell drawings. In 1921, Marie Curie and Claudius Regaud created the Curie Foundation and opened a dispensary to treat cancer patients. Panels and objects present the two radiotherapy treatments available at the time: röntgen therapy and brachytherapy. In conclusion, a panel retraces the history of the fight against this scourge in France between the wars and presents prevention posters created by famous poster painters.