MADAME CURIE

SUBJECTS — Biography; Science-Technology; World/France;

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Female Role Model; Grieving;

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Responsibility.

AGE: 10+; No MPAA Rating;

Drama; 1943; 124 minutes; Black & White. Available from Amazon.com.

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MOVIE WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS

TWM offers the following worksheets to keep students’ minds on the movie and direct them to the lessons that can be learned from the film.

 

Film Study Worksheet for a Work of Historical Fiction and

Worksheet for Cinematic and Theatrical Elements and Their Effects.

 

Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Historical Fiction in Film Cross-Curricular Homework Project.

DESCRIPTION

This is a reasonably accurate film biography showing the early scientific work of Marie Curie (1867 – 1934) and her romance with her husband, Pierre Curie. Marie Curie was the first person to realize that radioactivity came from a source within the atom. She was also the discoverer of radium and polonium, the first woman to win the Nobel Prize in science, and the first person to win two Nobel Prizes in science.

SELECTED AWARDS & CAST

Selected Awards:

1943 Academy Award Nominations: Best Picture; Best Actor (Pidgeon); Best Actress (Garson); Best Black & White Cinematography; Best Art Direction – Interior Decoration, Black & White; Best Sound, Recording; Best Music.

 

Featured Actors:

Greer Garson, Walter Pidgeon, Robert Walker, Dame May Whitty, Henry Travers, Sir C. Aubrey Smith, Albert Basserman, Victor Francen, Reginald Owen, Van Johnson.

 

Director:

Mervyn LeRoy.

BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE

This film will inspire children, both boys and girls, to become scientists. It introduces children to the greatest female scientist of the 20th century and to her partnership with her husband. It will also show the joy and drudgery of scientific investigation.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS

None.

PARENTING POINTS

See the Quick Discussion Starter.

HELPFUL BACKGROUND

Marie & Pierre Curie in their Laboratory

Marie Curie’s first Nobel Prize was in physics (1903), shared with her husband and Antoine Becquerel (in the film, the man who showed Marie and Pierre the rock that left an image of a key on photographic film). The Curies received the prize “in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena ….” Marie Curie’s second Nobel Prize, won many years after her husband’s death, was in chemistry (1913) for the discovery of radium and polonium and for the isolation and study of radium. She also discovered that thorium was radioactive. Marie Curie died in 1934 of leukemia brought on by years of exposure to radiation.

Molecules are combinations of atoms. The identity and arrangement of the atoms in a molecule give it a specific set of chemical and physical characteristics. For example, a water molecule (H2O) is comprised of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom. But molecules containing oxygen atoms paired with the atoms of other elements have entirely different properties. Two atoms of oxygen, when combined with one atom of carbon (CO2), make carbon dioxide, a clear and odorless gas that plants use in photosynthesis and which land animals emit as a waste product through their lungs. Molecules created by other combinations of elements, including the radioactive elements show similar differences in their properties. For example, one compound containing uranium is a dark powder while another, in which uranium is combined with different elements, is a yellow crystal.

When Marie Curie was doing her pioneering work, the existing scientific knowledge led her to expect that the energy radiating from different compounds would be different. However, she observed that the energy radiating from compounds of uranium did not change with the different combinations of elements in the various substances. Instead, the amount of energy emitted depended only on the amount of uranium that the compound contained, no matter what other elements the uranium was combined with: the more uranium the more energy. The same was true with the other radioactive elements. This meant that the energy was not affected by the way that the atoms of a radioactive element combined with atoms of other elements, but rather that the source of the energy was from inside the atom itself. This was the first time that anyone had observed any effect that came directly from inside an atom.

Pierre Curie (1859 – 1906) was a famous scientist in his own right who discovered the piezoelectric effect and the Curie Point. The piezoelectric effect occurs when pressure is applied to certain crystals, such as quartz. When pressure is applied, positive and negative electric charges appear on opposite ends of the crystal. The Curie Point is the temperature at which magnetic substances lose their magnetism. Pierre Curie abandoned the field of magnetism to work with his wife on radioactivity.

Radioactive elements have unstable atoms that give out energy (heat and light) as they emit subatomic particles. The Curies measured the heat generated by one gram of radium to be 100 calories of energy per hour, day after day, year after year. In comparison, the complete combustion by fire of a gram of coal will produce about 8,000 calories but on only one occasion. The Curies were the first to theorize that radioactivity comes from changes in the atom, not related to the chemical or physical state of the radioactive substance. Pitchblende is a hard black colored mineral which contains various radioactive substances.

For a description of Marie Curie’s heroic efforts during the First World War to bring x-ray technology to front line hospitals, see Learning Guide to Marie Curie: More than Meets the Eye. This film is suitable for 8 – 12-year-old children.

Marie Curie and Albert Einstein met at the first Solvay Conference of the world’s leading physicists in 1911. They became friends and in 1913 went on a walking holiday together with their children. Einstein said that Madame Curie was “[t]he only person not corrupted by fame.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

1. See Discussion Questions for Use With any Film that is a Work of Fiction.

 

2. Who was the first person to win two Nobel prizes in science?

 

3. When two elements are combined in one molecule, chemists call the result a compound. For example, water is a compound of hydrogen atoms and oxygen atoms. Explain the importance of Marie Curie’s discovery that the amount of radiation produced by a radioactive element when compounded with another element depended only on the total amount of the radioactive element and not on the nature of the other element that it was combined with.

SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING

FEMALE ROLE MODEL

1. Who was the first person to win two Nobel prizes in science?

 

2. Is Marie Curie a female role model? Why?

 

GRIEVING

3. What gave Madame Curie the strength to go on living after her husband died?

 

4. Is there anything that you can do to protect yourself in advance from the sudden and devastating loss such as the untimely and unexpected death of a spouse, child or parent?

MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)

Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.

 

RESPONSIBILITY

(Do what you are supposed to do; Persevere: keep on trying!; Always do your best; Use self-control; Be self-disciplined; Think before you act — consider the consequences; Be accountable for your choices)

 

1. Was all the effort that the Curies put into isolating the little dab of pitchblende worthwhile?

 

2. Had Marie Curie fudged the results of her experiments, who would have been the losers?

ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES

BRIDGES TO READING

Books recommended for middle school and junior high readers include: Madame Curie and Her Daughter Irene by Rosalyn Pflaum, Learner, 1993; Marie Curie: Discoverer of Radium by Margaret Poyntner, Enslow, 1994; Women of Peace: Nobel Peace Prize Winners, by Anne Schraff, Enslow Publishers, 1994; Darwin and the Voyage of the Beagle by Felicia Law, illustrated by Judy Brook, Deutsch, 1985; and Einstein Anderson, Science Sleuth, by Seymour, Simon, illustrated by Fred Winkowski, Viking, 1985.

LINKS TO THE INTERNET

BIBLIOGRAPHY

In addition to websites which may be linked in the Guide and selected film reviews listed on the Movie Review Query Engine, the following resources were consulted in the preparation of this Learning Guide:

  • Marie Curie, Robert Reid, New American Library, 1974;
  • Grand Obsession: Madame Curie and Her World, Rosalynd Pflaum, Double Day, 1989.

This Learning Guide was last updated on December 16, 2009.