Marie Curie's travels to Spain

The hall of the Teatro Real offered a dazzling appearance, adorned with magnificent tapestries. All the boxes and seats were filled with a distinguished audience. The event, chaired by King Alfonso XIII, was attended by prestigious doctors, politicians and foreign personalities, including the researcher Marie Curie (Poland 1867, France 1934).

This is how the chroniclers of the time described the solemn inauguration of the First National Congress of Medicine, which was held in Madrid between April 20 and 28, 1919 under the coordination of the physiologist José Gómez Ocaña.

The scientist arrived in Madrid as a true eminence. She had already received her two Nobel Prizes: Physics (1903) for her research on radioactivity and Chemistry (1911) for the discovery of radium and polonium. Curie, who in World War I had promoted the use of "radiological cars" to help wounded soldiers, thanked the Spanish for the support that the Spanish had given French prisoners during the war.

Two days later she gave a lecture on Radioelement Radiation and the technique of its use in the amphitheater of the old Faculty of Medicine (now the headquarters of the Official College of Physicians of Madrid, near Atocha). With the help of her daughter Irene she set up her instruments and performed various experiments to support her speech. In the end, she projected two photographs of the small wooden pavilion where she, together with her late husband Pierre –who was killed by a horse carriage–, had begun her work.

Researcher's hands

When in April 1931 the researcher returned to Spain invited by the government of the recently launched Republic, she spoke again of the precarious conditions in which she worked at the beginning. "She said that between her and her husband they carried the material they used in their research to the garage that they had turned into her laboratory," recalls Carmen de Michelena (1914), then a student in the chemistry section at the Faculty of Sciences. Marie Curie traveled there at the initiative of Enrique Moles, considered the most relevant Spanish chemist before the Civil War.

“Another anecdote that she commented was that she was very scared when she saw her skeleton thanks to the X-rays discovered by Röntgen”, continues Carmen, who has not forgotten the impression that the Franco-Polish scientist made on her: “She was sweet, attractive and nice. She was dressed in a dark, knee-length skirt and a blouse tied around her waist. And she had very fine hands, like a researcher ”.

Another central act of her second visit was the lecture she gave at the Student Residence entitled Radioactivity and the evolution of science. She also visited the new laboratories that she hosted for her, the physicist Blas Cabrera.

On the second trip, she was accompanied by her daughter Ève, "who made her conquests, as always," her mother recounted.

During this trip, Marie Curie was accompanied by her daughter Ève, "who made her conquests, as always," according to her mother in a letter. In it, she also recalls the "magnificent bouquet of red carnations" with which they were received at the station, although she complained about a failure in the heating of the ladies' residence where they stayed.

Second Republic

In another letter, the researcher also refers to the Second Republic: “What interests me above all are the conversations with the Republicans and the enthusiasm they have for renewing the country. Hopefully they can succeed!" The academic and scientific popularizer José Manuel Sánchez Ron, author of a biography on Marie Curie, interprets this visit as a sign of her progressive spirit and her solidarity with the young republic.

Mother and daughter also took the opportunity to visit Toledo and drove to Granada to admire the "very beautiful Arab palaces." In the Alhambra they were entertained by a procession of students who invaded the place to greet and photograph the scientist. Then they spent the night in Almería and passed through Murcia, Valencia and Barcelona, where they took the express back to Paris.

In France, much of Curie's activity during those years focused on her work at the International Commission for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations to promote scientific vocations. She, as vice-president of this commission, returned to Spain between May 3 and 6, 1933. The reason, she chaired a meeting of the so-called Letters and Arts Committee of the Society on The Future of Culture at the Student Residence .

“It is essential for the future of civilization that the magic of scientific conquests and the glory of technical achievements develop in harmony with the acceptance of a doctrine that establishes a regime of peace and friendship among men. and nations, under the universal supremacy of reason and a morality worthy of the name”, Curie said then.

The seven sessions of the meeting were attended by professors from prestigious universities such as Harvard and Cambridge, along with personalities such as the French writer Paul Valéry or the Spaniards Gregorio Marañón and Miguel de Unamuno. It would be the last intervention of Marie Curie in Spain. The following year, the scientist herself died at the age of 66 in a clinic near Passy, in the French Alps.

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