chemistry laboratory forms, with her office, the historical heart of the Musée
Curie. This room, directly overlooking the garden of the Institut du Radium, has
housed the research of the director for the last 20 years of her life.
The personal chemistry lab of Marie Curie
In this laboratory, Marie Curie devoted a great deal of her time to various and delicate works of chemistry or physics. She has made unremitting efforts to obtain rare radioactive materials, such as radium, polonium and actinium, which have been used in numerous research carried out at the laboratoire Curie.
This small chemistry laboratory was decontaminated and reconstituted in 1981, thanks to a donation from the Ligue nationale de lutte contre le cancer [The National League for the fight against cancer]. Some apparatus and materials of the glassware of this time have been preserved, including a lab coat of Marie Curie!
Irène et Frédéric Joliot-Curie also spent many hours there, succeeding themselves as the personal preparer of the scientist, and then as director of the Institut du Radium.
The lab coat of Marie Curie
This lab coat, attributed to Marie Curie, is presented in what was her personal chemistry laboratory, preserved in the museum. This garment, emblematic of the laboratories still today, is traditionally white. The only person at the Institut du Radium to deviate from this aesthetic rule was none other than Marie Curie herself: being a widow, she had to wear dark-colored clothes, her lab coat being non exception. This garment is therefore an indirect evidence of the tragedy that strike the family in 1906.
Unfortunately, there is no evidence that the scientist actually wore the lab coat displayed at the museum: no photograph shows her. However, three clues allow us to compare it with those worn by Marie Curie: firstly, the size visible on an inner label (size 2) corresponds to Marie Curie : 1m63; Next, the cutting of the gament is the same as the one of lab coats with different fabrics visible on the rare photographs of the scientist in this same laboratory; Finally, we also have the testimony of Nelly Boiteux, daughter of Georges Boiteux, the personal driver of Marie Curie who donated the lab coat to the museum.
“Marie Curie was cheerful, she liked my father because he always told jokes and they both laughed. She was simple, she talked with us, she was not severe with children. She already had her white hair, but she was beautiful, she dressed well, often with big black dresses, she wore hats, and when she worked, she wore black coats too. My father picked up one after her death, he did not want it to be thrown away, I think she is in the museum.” Nelly Boiteux, daughter of Georges Boiteux, driver of Marie Curie, quoted by Janine Dumont, in “Marie Curie under the gaze of Nelly”, Bulletin of the Association Curie et Joliot-Curie, n°11, p. 26, 2004. What we know for sure, however, is that all the lab coats came from the same supplier: Libert, 25 place Maubert in Paris. We find traces of all these orders from 1907 until her death, for a unit price oscillating between 30 and 35 old francs (about twenty euros), mainly for “ladies’ lab coat”. Evocation of the scientist in her personal chemistry lab, this garment allows us to catch a glimpse of Marie Curie’s intimacy.
Conception : Musée Curie
Photographies actuelles : Jérémy Mathur
Photographies anciennes : collection ACJC, Musée Curie