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By Kathleen Krull

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Possessing material goods was not considered as worthwhile as sacrifice in the name of a cause. Bronislawa, with five growing children to support, didn’t consider herself above working with her hands. After buying the proper tools, she taught herself how to cobble so she could make her family’s shoes. To Marie she was “the soul of the house,” a true heroine. As a baby crawling into her father’s study, Marie studied the barometer on the wall, an instrument that recorded air pressure and changes in weather.

Poles who resisted were sent to the remotest part of Russia—the frozen wasteland of Siberia—and never seen again. Others were hanged—like the brother of one of Marie’s friends—their bodies left dangling for weeks as warnings. Many of the most educated Poles chose to leave home rather than risk winding up in a labor camp or at the end of a noose. Paris, France, became a haven for Polish nationalists working to get their country back. Marie’s father, Wladyslaw Sklodowski, had trained for a career in science, but under Russian rule, Poles were forbidden to work in laboratories.

The next problem was storage. Where do you put twenty thousand pounds of pitchblende residue? Pierre got permission to use a huge shed at the school. This was another gloomy place, freezing in winter, boiling in summer, previously a room for dissections, now too shabby and uncomfortable even for that. Foreign scientists who in later years visited the shed assumed it was some sort of practical joke. This was where the famous Madame Curie worked? In the spring of 1899, bag after bag of brown dust mixed with pine needles started arriving at the shed from Bohemia.

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