The Curie Method Educational content

The 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics

In 1903, the Nobel Prize in Physics was awarded to Henri Becquerel for his discovery of radioactivity, and to Marie and Pierre Curie for their research on the same phenomenon.

Marie and Pierre Curie’s Nobel Prize in Physics (1903)
Source: Curie Museum (ACJC collection).

The discovery of radioactivity opened the way to new fields of research and applications. In particular, starting in 1903, New Zealand-born British physicist Ernest Rutherford began examining the nature of the alpha radiation emitted by radium. In 1911, his study of this radiation led him to prove the existence of the atomic nucleus. This marked the beginning of nuclear physics.

Marie Curie in 1903.
Source: Curie Museum (ACJC collection) / Henri Manuel.

Upon receiving the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics, in accordance with tradition Pierre Curie gave a speech to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. His topic was radium and radioactivity. Now, over a century later, the conclusion of his speech seems more visionary than ever.

It can even be thought that radium could become very dangerous in criminal hands, and here the question can be raised whether mankind benefits from knowing the secrets of Nature, whether it is ready to profit from it or whether this knowledge will not be harmful for it. The example of the discoveries of Nobel is characteristic, as powerful explosives have enabled man to do wonderful work. They are also a terrible means of destruction in the hands of great criminals who are leading the peoples towards war. I am one of those who believe with Nobel that mankind will derive more good than harm from the new discoveries.


In 1911, Marie Curie2 also received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of radium and polonium, the isolation of radium and the study of the nature and components of this remarkable element. 3


1Pierre Curie’s June 6, 1905 speech to the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences. This speech was delayed due to health problems that had prevented the Curies from traveling to Stockholm earlier.

2Pierre Curie died in 1906.

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