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Marie Curie & A Radiating Pear Cake

Ages 7+ Total time: 90 minutes [or 45 minutes, see below]

Marie Curie shouldn't be just someone you learn about, she is a figure worthy of glorious celebration. She was a 19th-century woman who used ingenuity and kindness to break into the male-dominated academic world, a care-filled scientist who insisted on not patenting her discoveries but rather sharing them freely, and a beautiful mind who, in times of war, focused her efforts on saving lives.

Curie is famous for the discovery of radioactive elements and coining the term 'radioactivity.' These breakthroughs earned her two Nobel prizes in physics (1903) and chemistry (1911). During WWI her invention of a mobile x-ray machine helped carry out life-saving surgeries on the battlefields.

A closer look at her personal life is an inspiration to every feminist. There are many examples of her feminist lifestyle, such as her choice of a husband who saw women as people and her nurturing of her daughters' intellects. One example, however, is the clear pinnacle of this worldview. As a young woman, Maria Sklodowska (as was her name at the time) had to migrate to Paris in order to attend the one academic institute that accepted female students, the Sorbonne University. The costs of tuition and living in France were far beyond her financial capabilities, but she found a work-around with the help of her sister Bryonia. Both women strived for higher education, and they agreed to help each other get it. At first, Maria would work as a governess while Bronia attended medical school; then, Broyna would work and fund Maria's physics degree.

Whether you are celebrating feminism, science, or kindness, Curie is an iconic figure to look up to. This French pear cake alludes to her having a French affiliation for most of her life. I like that the recipe calls for pears, providing a tiny nod to Pier Curie; she couldn't have done it without him.

Radiating Pear Cake

Pier Curie won the Nobel prize in 1903 but he refused to receive it without Marie, who had led the research

Cake Ingredients

1 pear, cored and sliced

¼ cup soft salted butter

½ cup sugar

1 tsp vanilla

1 egg

2/3 cup self-rising flour

¼ cup sour cream


1 cup whipped cream

Radiating syrup:

3 tbsp tonic water +3 tbsp sugar


1. Heat oven to 350F.

2. Spray pan and line with pear slices

3. Whisk butter and sugar together until creamy.

4. Add sugar, vanilla, egg, and flour in the order listed and mix after each one.

5. Pour batter on top of pear slices into the pan.

6. Bake at 350F for 30 minutes.

7. Prepare glow glaze: In a small saucepan, mix 3 tbsp sugar and 3 tbsp tonic water.

8. Bring sugar tonic mix to boil and let simmer for 10-15 minutes to get a syrup texture.

9. When the cake is ready, let it cool to room temp.

10. Cover cake with whipped cream.

11. Drizzle tonic syrup on top.

12. To see the glow, shine UV light on the cake.


Lesson Plans

90-minute lesson

Introduction - 5 minutes

Preparing cakes - 20 min

While cakes bake: making syrup and hearing about the search for radium - 30 minutes

Cakes chill while class hears about Curie - 10 minutes

Topping the cake with whipped cream and drizzling glow syrup - 10 minutes

Review - 10 minutes

Timesavers for larger groups or younger participants

Use pre-sliced pears.

Pre-measure ingredients. Place ingredients' containers in front of each person.

Bake the cakes on 375F

45-minute lesson

For a 45 minute Marie Curie baking activity, you can:

  1. Skip cool down and cake topping. Make the cake from scratch (see all the time-saving tips), make the glowing glaze, and have participants take them home separately while the cake is still warm. You can add small containers with whipped cream for each participant. This lesson plan does not leave much time for teaching, but it focuses on celebrating Curie and could suit students who have learned about her.

  2. Decorate ready-made cupcakes with whipped cream and glowing syrup. Activity timeline will be: 10 minutes to talk about Curie; 20 minutes to make the syrup and talk about the search for Radium, and 15 minutes to decorate the cupcakes.

  3. Make Radiating Rock Candy. Prepare only the syrup, and let it boil for 4-5 minutes to thicken beyond syrup-like texture. Drizzle drops of the thick tonic syrup on a cold surface, and chill to get candy drops. Shine UV light on the candy.

Marie Curie Baking History Class
Radiating Rock Candy to celebrate Marie Curie


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