Pierre Curie

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Pierre (Piotr) Curie (15 May 1859 – 19 April 1906) was a French physicist, a pioneer in crystallography, magnetism, piezoelectricity and radioactivity, and Nobel laureate. He was the son of Dr. Eugène Curie (August 28, 1827-February 25, 1910) and Sophie-Claire Depouilly Curie (January 15, 1832-September 27, 1897). In 1903 he received the Nobel Prize in Physics with his wife, Maria Salomea Skłodowska-Curie, and Henri Becquerel, "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered by their joint researches on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel".


Early years

Born in Paris, France, Pierre was educated by his father, Eugène (August 28, 1827-February 25, 1910), and in his early teens showed a strong aptitude for mathematics and geometry. By the age of 18 he had completed the equivalent of a higher degree, but did not proceed immediately to a doctorate due to lack of money. Instead he worked as a laboratory instructor.

In 1880, Pierre and his older brother Jacques (1856-1941) demonstrated that an electric potential was generated when crystals were compressed, i.e. piezoelectricity. Shortly afterwards, in 1881, they demonstrated the reverse effect: that crystals could be made to deform when subject to an electric field. Almost all digital electronic circuits now rely on this phenomenon in the form of crystal oscillators.


Prior to his famous doctoral studies on magnetism he designed and perfected an extremely sensitive torsion balance for measuring magnetic coefficients. Variations on this equipment were commonly used by future workers in that area. Pierre Curie studied ferromagnetism, paramagnetism, and diamagnetism for his doctoral thesis, and discovered the effect of temperature on paramagnetism which is now known as Curie's law. The material constant in Curie's law is known as the Curie constant. He also discovered that ferromagnetic substances exhibited a critical temperature transition, above which the substances lost their ferromagnetic behavior. This is now known as the Curie point.

Pierre formulated what is now known as the Curie Dissymmetry Principle: a physical effect cannot have a dissymmetry absent from its efficient cause. For example, a random mixture of sand in zero gravity has no dissymmetry (it is isotropic). Introduce a gravitational field, then there is a dissymmetry because of the direction of the field. Then the sand grains can ‘self-sort’ with the density increasing with depth. But this new arrangement, with the directional arrangement of sand grains, actually reflects the dissymmetry of the gravitational field that causes the separation.

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