Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (2023)

Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (1)

by Nanny Froman*


MarieAndPierre CurieHis groundbreaking research was recalled when, on April 20, 1995, their bodies were removed from their burial ground in Sceaux, just outside Paris, and buried in a solemn ceremony under the mighty dome of the Panthéon. Marie Curie was the first woman to be awarded this honor by her own efforts. A woman, Sophie Berthelot, already rested there, but as the wife of the chemist Marcelin Berthelot (1827-1907).

It was François Mitterrand who, before the end of his fourteen-year presidency, took this initiative, as he said, “to finally respect equality between women and men before the law and in reality” (“pour respecter enfin …l' égalité des femmes et des hommes dans le droit comme dans les faits"). In fact, as the press pointed out, this initiative was symbolic in three ways. Marie Curie was a woman, she was an immigrant, and she had done much to raise the profile of France in the scientific world.

At the end of the 19th century, a number of discoveries were made in physics that enabled the breakthrough of modern physics and led to a revolutionary technical development that permanently changed our daily life.

Around 1886, Heinrich Hertz experimentally demonstrated the existence of radio waves. It is said that Hertz just smiled in disbelief when someone predicted that its waves would go around the world. Hertz died in 1894 at the age of just 37. In September 1895Guglielmo Marconisent the first radio signal over a distance of 1.5 km. In 1901 he spanned the Atlantic. Hertz didn't live long enough to see the far-reaching positive effects of his great discovery, and of course he didn't need to see it abused on bad TV shows either. It is difficult to predict the consequences of new discoveries in physics.

Am 8. November 1895,Wilhelm Conrad Röntgenat the University of Würzburg, discovered a new type of radiation, which he called X-rays. It has been identified over time as the short-wavelength, high-frequency counterpart of Hertzian waves. The radiation's ability to penetrate opaque material, impenetrable to ordinary light, naturally created a great sensation. Roentgen himself wrote to a friend that at first he had told no one about what he was doing except his wife. People would say, "X-ray is crazy". On January 1, 1896, he sent his first announcement of the discovery to his colleagues. "... and now all hell broke loose," he wrote. His discovery soon had an impact on practical medicine. In physics, it led to a chain of new and sensational discoveries. IfHeinrich BequerelExposing uranium salts to sunlight to investigate whether the new radiation might have a connection with luminescence, he accidentally found - thanks to a few days of cloudy weather - that another new type of radiation was emitted spontaneously without the uranium salts having to be exposed - a Radiation capable of penetrating metal foil and obscuring a photographic plate. The two researchers who would play an important role in further research into this new radiation were Marie and Pierre Curie.


Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (2)

Marie Curie.

Marie Sklodowska, as she was known before her marriage, was born in Warsaw in 1867. Her parents were both teachers who believed strongly in the importance of education. Marie received her first lessons in physics and chemistry from her father. She had a brilliant aptitude for study and a great thirst for knowledge; however, further studies were not possible for women in Poland. Marie dreamed of studying at the Sorbonne in Paris, but this was beyond her family's means. To solve the problem, Marie and her older sister Bronya came to an agreement: Marie should go to work as a governess and help her sister with the money she had saved so that Bronya could study medicine at the Sorbonne. When Bronya graduated, she would contribute to the costs of Marie's studies in turn.

So Marie only came to Paris at the age of 24 to study mathematics and physics. Bronya was now married to a doctor of Polish descent, and at Bronya's urgent invitation to come and live with them, Marie took the step of going to Paris. At this point, she had been out of college for six years, and had no training in understanding fast-spoken French. But her great interest in studying and her joy at the Sorbonne with all its opportunities helped her to overcome all difficulties. To save herself a two-hour drive, she rented a small attic in the Latin Quarter. It was so cold there that she had to put on everything she had to sleep at night. But to compensate for all her hardships, she had the full freedom to devote herself entirely to her studies. "It was like a new world that opened up to me, the world of science, which I was finally able to get to know in all freedom," she writes. And it was France's leading mathematicians and physicists that she could hear, people with names that we encounter today in the history of science: Marcel Brillouin, Paul Painlevé,Gabriel Lippmann, and Paul appeal. After two years, when she graduated in physics in 1893, she topped the list of candidates and the following year came second in a degree in mathematics. After three years she had passed the exams in physics and mathematics with flying colors. Her goal was to do the teaching diploma and then return to Poland.

Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (3)

Marie Sklodowska before she went to Paris.


Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (4)

Pierre Curie.

But then an event happened that was to have a decisive impact on her life. She met Pierre Curie. He was 35 years old, eight years older, and an internationally renowned physicist but an outsider in the French scientific community - a serious idealist and dreamer whose greatest wish was to devote his life to scientific work. External awards and a career were completely indifferent to him. He earned his living as head of a laboratory at the School of Industrial Physics and Chemistry, where engineers were trained, and he lived for his research on crystals and on the magnetic properties of bodies at different temperatures. He had not attended any of France's elite schools, but had been educated by his father, who was a doctor, and a private tutor. At the age of 16 he passed his high school diploma and at the age of 21 he and his brother Jacques discovered piezoelectricity, which means that when certain crystals, including quartz, are mechanically stressed, a difference in electrical potential becomes visible. Such crystals are used today in microphones, electronic devices and watches.

(Video) How madam marie curie and pierre curie discovered radioactivity?||ANIMATION||RADIOACTIVITY

Marie was also an idealist; Though outwardly shy and reserved, in reality she was energetic and purposeful. Pierre and Marie immediately discovered an intellectual affinity that very soon turned into deeper feelings. In July 1895 they were married at Sceaux town hall, where Pierre's parents lived. They were given money as a wedding gift, with which they bought each a bicycle, and long, sometimes adventurous bike rides became their way of relaxing. Her life was otherwise quiet monotonous, a life of work and study.

Persuaded by his father and Marie, Pierre submitted his doctoral thesis in 1895. It looked at different types of magnetism and included an illustration of the relationship between temperature and magnetism, now known as Curie's Law. In 1896 Marie passed her teaching diploma and became first in her group. Their daughter Irène was born in September 1897. Pierre had managed to get Marie to work in the school's laboratory, and in 1897 she completed several studies on the magnetic properties of steel on behalf of an industry association. After some time, Marie decided to continue her research and looked around for a topic for a doctoral thesis.

Becquerel's discovery had not attracted much attention. Just a day after his discovery, he informed the Monday session ofthe Academy of Sciences, his colleagues listened politely and then moved on to the next item on the agenda. Roentgen's discovery and the possibilities associated with it were the focus of the researchers' interest and enthusiasm. Becquerel himself made some important observations, such as that gases through which the rays passed could conduct electricity, but he was soon to leave that area. Marie decided to systematically study the mysterious "uranium rays". She had an excellent tool at her disposal - an electrometer for measuring small electric currents, constructed by Pierre and his brother and based on the piezoelectric effect.

Surprising results

Results were not long in coming. After just a few days, Marie discovered that thorium emits the same rays as uranium. Their continued systematic study of the various chemical compounds yielded the surprising result that the strength of the radiation did not depend on the compound being studied. It just dependedthe sumof uranium or thorium. As a rule, chemical compounds of the same element have very different chemical and physical properties: one uranium compound is a dark powder, another a transparent yellow crystal, but only the amount of uranium they contained was decisive for the radiation they emitted. Marie concluded that the ability to radiate does not depend on the arrangement of the atoms in a molecule but must be connected to the interior of the atom itself. This discovery was absolutely revolutionary.From a conceptual point of view, it is their most important contribution to the development of physics.It now went through the entire periodic table. Their findings were that only uranium and thorium gave off this radiation.

Marie's next idea, seemingly simple but brilliant, was to study the natural ores of uranium and thorium. She obtained samples from geological museums and found that pitchblende from these ores was four to five times more active than motivated by the amount of uranium. Their hypothesis was that a new element, much more active than uranium, was present in the ore in small amounts.

Marie and Pierre - a fruitful collaboration

Fascinating new perspectives opened up. Pierre gave up his research on crystals and symmetry in nature, in which he was heavily involved, and joined Marie in her project. They found that the strong activity was associated with the fractions containing bismuth or barium. As Marie continued her analysis of the bismuth fractions, she found that each time she was able to remove a certain amount of bismuth, a residue with greater activity was left behind. By the end of June 1898 they had a substance about 300 times more active than uranium. In their paper, published in July 1898, they write: "We therefore believe that the substance which we have extracted from the pitchblende contains a hitherto unknown metal, resembling bismuth in its analytical properties. If the existence of this new metal is confirmed, we propose to declare itPoloniumafter the name of the country of origin of one of us.” They also used the term in this workradioactivityfor the first time. After more months of work, the Curies informed thisthe Academy of Sciences, on December 26, 1898, that they had established strong reasons for encountering an additional very active substance, which chemically behaved almost like pure barium. They suggested the nameRadiumfor the new item.

tedious work

To be sure that these are new elements, the Curies would have to produce them in detectable quantities, determine their atomic weight and, ideally, isolate them. To do this, the Curies would need tons of expensive pitchblende. However, it was known that near the Joachimsthal mine in Bohemia, large heaps of slag had been left behind in the surrounding forests. Marie felt that radium should be left in arrears. A sample was sent to them from Bohemia and it was found that the slag was even more active than the original mineral. Several tons of pitchblende were later made available to them through the good offices of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

Now the heroic epoch of her life began, which has become legendary. By this time they needed more space, and the principal of the school where Pierre once again worked came to their aid. They could use a large shed that was not manned. There the very laborious work of separation and analysis began. Marie performed the chemical separations, Pierre performed the measurements after each successive step. Physically it was hard work for Marie. She processed 20 kilos of raw material at once. First she had to clear pine needles and any debris she could see, then she had to do the separation work. "Sometimes I had to spend a whole day stirring a boiling mass with a heavy iron stick almost as tall as myself. I would be sick with fatigue at the end of the day," she writes.

In a preface to the collected works of Pierre Curie, Marie describes that the shed had a bituminous floor and a glass roof, which offered imperfect protection from rain and was like a greenhouse in summer, drafty and cold in winter; Yet it was in this shed that they spent the best and happiest years of their lives. There they could devote the whole day to work. Sometimes they could not carry out their processing outdoors, so the noxious gases had to be vented through the open windows. The only furniture was old worn pine tables that Marie worked on with her expensive radium fractions. Since they had no shelter for their valuable products, they were arranged on tables and boards. Marie recalled the joy they felt when they came into the shed at night and saw "from all sides the faintly glowing silhouettes" of their work. The dangerous gases Marie is talking about included radon, the radioactive gas that worries us today because of the small amounts released from certain building materials.Wilhelm Ostwald, the highly respected German chemist who was one of the first to recognize the importance of the Curies' research, traveled from Berlin to Paris to see how they worked. Neither Pierre nor Marie were at home. He wrote: "At my earnest request I was shown the laboratory where radium had just been discovered... It was a hybrid of a barn and a potato shed, and if I hadn't seen the workbench and chemical apparatus I would." thought I was being tricked.”

Marie presents her doctoral thesis

While the Curies went about their toilsome work, each of them had his teaching duties. From 1900 Marie held a part-time teaching post at the École Normale Supérieur de Sèvres for girls. Finally, after thousands of crystallizations, Marie isolated - from several tons of the starting material - a decigram of almost pure radium chloride and determined the atomic weight of radium to be 225. She presented the results of this work in her doctoral thesis on June 25, 1903. Of the three members of the examination board, two would receive the Nobel Prize a few years later:Lippmann, her former teacher, 1908 for physics, andMoissan, 1906 for chemistry. The commission considered that the results represented the greatest scientific contribution ever made in a doctoral thesis.

A small celebration in Marie's honor was arranged by fellow researcher Paul Langevin that evening. The guests includedJohn Perrin, a prominent professor at the Sorbonne, andErnst Rutherford, who was then in Canada but temporarily working in Paris and was keen to meet Marie Curie. He had good reason. His investigation of radiation deflection in magnetic fields was only successful when a highly radioactive preparation was sent to him by the Curies. By this time he was already famous and was soon regarded as the greatest experimental physicist of his time. It was a warm evening and the group went out into the garden. Pierre had provided an effective finale to the day. When they were all seated, he pulled from his waistcoat pocket a tube partially coated with zinc sulfide containing a lot of radium salt dissolved. Suddenly the tube brightened, illuminating the darkness, and the group stared at the display in wonder, calm and solemn. But in the tube's light, Rutherford saw that Pierre's fingers were scarred and inflamed, and that he was having a hard time holding the tube.

serious health problems

A week earlier, Marie and Pierre had been invited to the Royal Institution in London, where Pierre gave a lecture. In front of the crowded auditorium, he showed how radium quickly attacks photographic plates wrapped in paper, how the substance gives off heat; in semi-darkness he demonstrated the spectacular lighting effect. He described the medical tests he had tried on himself. He had wrapped a sample of radium salts in a thin rubber sheath and tied it to his arm for ten hours, then examined the burn-like wound day after day. A permanent gray scar remained after 52 days. In this context, Pierre mentioned the possibility that radium could be used to treat cancer. But Pierre's scarred hands were shaking, so he once spilled some of the expensive preparation. Fifty years later, radioactive emissions were discovered on the site and certain surfaces needed cleaning.

In fact, Pierre was ill. His legs were shaking, making it difficult for him to stand up at times. He was in great pain. He consulted a doctor who diagnosed neurasthenia and prescribed him strychnine. And the skin on Marie's fingers was cracked and scarred. Both suffered from constant fatigue. Apparently they had no idea that radiation could be detrimental to their general health. Pierre, who liked to say that radium is a million times more radioactive than uranium, often carried a sample in his vest pocket to show his friends. Marie liked to have a little radium salt by her bed that glowed in the dark. The papers left behind emit strong radioactivity. If today onNational LibraryIf you wish to consult the three black volumes in which your work is recorded for December 1897 and the three following years, you must sign a certificate stating that you are doing so at your own risk. People will have to do that for a long time. In fact, it takes 1,620 years for radium's activity to be reduced by half.

Rutherford was as unaware of the dangers as the Curies. When it was discovered that one of his colleagues, who had been working with radioactive materials for several months, could discharge an electroscope by exhaling, Rutherford expressed his delight. This confirmed his theory of the existence of airborne emanations.

Seeing the potential for radium's medicinal uses, plants in the United States began to be built to mass-produce it. The question arose whether Marie and Pierre should patent the manufacturing process or not. Both were against it. Pure research should be pursued for its own sake and must not be mixed up with the profit motive of the industry. Researchers should be altruistic and make their results available to everyone. Marie and Pierre generously provided their fellow researchers, including Rutherford, with the preparations they had laboriously made. They provided the industry with descriptions of the production process.

Nobel prize

In 1903, Marie and Pierre Curie received halfNobel Price for physics. The mention was made "in recognition of the extraordinary services they have rendered through their joint research on the radiation phenomena discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel". Henri Becquerel received the other half for his discovery of spontaneous radioactivity. In a letter to the Swedish Academy of Sciences, Pierre explains that none of them can come to Stockholm to receive the prize. They could not escape because of their teaching commitments. He adds: "Mme Curie was ill this summer and has not fully recovered." That was certainly true, but his own health was no better. Only in June 1905 did they go to Stockholm, where Pierre gave a Nobel lecture.

In his speech at the award ceremony, the President of the Swedish Academy referred to the old adage: “Unity is strength”. He further quoted from Genesis: “It is not good that man should be alone; I will make it a mate meeting for him.”

Although the Nobel Prize eased their financial worries, the Curies were now suddenly the focus of public and press interest. Their seemingly romantic story, their work in unbearable conditions, the strange new element that could dissolve and give off heat from a seemingly inexhaustible source, all made the accounts fairy tales. At the center was Marie, a frail woman who had used a gigantic wand to grind up tons of pitchblende to extract a tiny amount of a magical element. SelfLe Figaro,otherwise a reasonable newspaper, began with "Once upon a time..." They were followed by journalists from all over the world - a situation they could not handle. Marie wrote: "The breaking up of our voluntary isolation was a cause of real suffering for us and had all the implications of a catastrophe." Pierre wrote in July 1905: "A whole year has passed since I could do any work...obviously I have no way found defending ourselves against wasting our time, and yet it is very necessary. Intellectually, it's a matter of life or death.”

(Video) Radioactive – Official U.S. Trailer | Prime Video

But as Elisabeth Crawford points out in her bookThe beginnings of the Nobel institution, from whose point of view the awarding of the prize for physics in 1903 was masterly. In the past, only the Literature Prize and the Peace Prize had attracted much attention in the press; The prizes for scientific topics were considered too esoteric to interest the general public. The excitement surrounding the awarding of the prize to the Curies, particularly Marie Curie, once and for all piqued the curiosity of the press and the public. The researchers' work was exciting and their findings fascinating.

Marie and Pierre Curie's health was a cause for concern. Her friends tried to get her to work less. All of her symptoms have been attributed to drafty dandruff and overexertion. Her greatest wish was to have a new laboratory, but such a laboratory was not in sight. When Paul Appell, the Dean of the Faculty of Science, appealed to Pierre on July 14, 1903 to have his name proposed as bearer of the prestigious Legion of Honour, Pierre replied: "...I have not the slightest need to be decorated, but I urgently need a laboratory." .” Although Pierre received a chair at the Sorbonne in 1904 with the promise of a laboratory, construction had not yet begun in 1906. Pierre was given access to some rooms in a building used for studying by young medical students. Pierre Curie never received a real laboratory.

Terrible catastrophe

On April 19, 1906, near the Pont Neuf in Paris, Pierre Curie was run over by a horse-drawn carriage and killed. Now Marie was alone with two daughters, Irène aged 9 and Ève aged 2. The shock broke her down completely. But even now she could draw on the toughness and endurance that were fundamental aspects of her character. When she was offered a pension, she turned it down: I am 38 and able to support myself was her reply. She was appointed to succeed Pierre as head of the laboratory, as she was undoubtedly the best fit, and to be responsible for his teaching duties. She became the first woman ever to be appointed as a teacher at the Sorbonne. After a few months, in November 1906, she gave her first lecture. The great amphitheater was full. In addition to students, her audience included people from near and far, journalists and photographers were present. Many people expected something unusual to happen. Perhaps a manifestation of the historical occasion. When Marie entered, skinny, pale and tense, she was greeted with an ovation. However, expectations of anything other than a clear and factual physics lecture were not met. But Marie's personality, her aura of simplicity and competence made a big impression.

Irène was now 9 years old. Marie had concrete ideas about the upbringing and upbringing of the children, which she now wanted to put into practice. Her circle of friends consisted of a small group of professors with school-age children. Marie organized a private school in which the parents themselves acted as teachers. A group of about ten children was therefore taught only by prominent professors: Jean Perrin, Paul Langevin, Édouard Chavannes, a professor of Chinese, Henri Mouton from the Pasteur Institute, a sculptor, was obliged to model and draw. Marie believed that science subjects should be taught from an early age, but not according to an overly rigid curriculum. It was important for children to be able to develop freely. Games and physical activities took up a lot of time. Travel also took up a lot of time, as the children had to travel to their teachers' homes, to Marie in Sceaux, or to Langevin's classes in one of the Paris suburbs. The small group became something of a school for the elite with a heavy emphasis on science. The children involved say they have happy memories of that time. For Irène, the foundation for her development as a researcher was laid during these years. The educational experiment lasted two years. Then the students had to prepare for their cominghigh-school diplomaPass the exam and follow the traditional educational programs.

A second Nobel Prize

In 1908, Marie became the first woman ever to be appointed professor at the Sorbonne. She then produced several decigrams of very pure radium chloride before finally succeeding, in collaboration with André Debierne, in isolating radium in metallic form. André Debierne, who started out as a laboratory assistant, became her loyal collaborator until her death and then succeeded her as head of the laboratory. In 1911 she was awarded theNobel Prize in Chemistry. The nomination by the Nobel Committee was "in recognition of her contribution to the advancement of chemistry through the discovery of the elements radium and polonium, through the isolation of radium, and the study of the nature and compounds of this remarkable element."

Now that the archive has been made accessible to the public, it is possible to study in detail the events surrounding the awarding of the two prizes in 1903 and 1911the Academy of Sciences, including Henri Poincaré and Gaston Darboux, had nominated Becquerel and Pierre Curie for the physics prize. Marie's name was not mentioned. This prompted Gösta Mittag-Leffler, professor of mathematics at Stockholm University College, to write to Pierre Curie. This letter has never survived, but Pierre Curie's reply of August 6, 1903 has survived. He wrote: "If it is true that I am seriously considered (for the price), I would very much like to be considered with Madame Curie in relation to our research into radioactive bodies." He drew attention to the role that she played in the discovery of radium and polonium, adding: "Don't you think it would be more satisfying from an artistic point of view if we were connected in this way?" (plus joli d'un point de vue artistique).

Some biographers have questioned whether Marie deserved the 1911 prize in chemistry. They have claimed that the discoveries of radium and polonium were part of the reason for the award in 1903, although this was not specifically stated. Marie is said to have been awarded the prize again for the same discovery, the award possibly being an expression of sympathy for reasons mentioned below. In fact, however, the award ceremony in 1903 was deliberately formulated with a view to a future chemistry prize. Chemists considered the discovery and isolation of radium to be the greatest event in chemistry since the discovery of oxygen. The fact that, for the first time in history, it could be shown that one element can be converted into another element revolutionized chemistry and marked a new epoch.

A terrible year

Rejected by the Academy

Despite the second Nobel Prize and an invitation to the first Solvay Conference with the world's leading physicists, includingEinstein, Poincaré uPlanck, 1911 turned into a dark year in Marie's life. In two smear campaigns she was to experience the volatility of the French press. The first was begun on November 16, 1910, when an article inLe FigaroIt was announced that she was ready to stand for electionthe Academy of Sciences. There were examples of factors other than merit deciding a choice, but Marie herself and her eminent research colleagues seemed to have assumed that their choice, with their extraordinarily brilliant scientific merits, was self-evident. However, it turned out that merit was not the deciding factor. The dark undercurrents of anti-Semitism, prejudice against women, xenophobia and even anti-scientific attitudes that existed in French society came to the surface. Usually the election was uninteresting to the press. The most rabid newspaper was the ultra-nationalist and anti-SemiticFrench action, directed by Léon Daudet, son of the writer Alphonse Daudet. Dreyfus had received redress for his wrongdoing in 1906 and had been decorated with the Legion of Honour, but in the eyes of the groups who had opposed him at his trial he was still guilty, still "the Jewish traitor". The pro-Dreyfus groups who had supported his cause were suspect, and the scientists who supported Marie were among them. Tasteless jokes alternated with outrageous accusations. It has been said that Pierre's research had given her a free rein in her career. She was from Poland, formally Catholic, but her name Sklodowska suggested she might be of Jewish origin, and so on. A week before the election, an opposing candidate, Édouard Branly, was put forward. The vote on January 23, 1911 took place in the presence of journalists, photographers and hordes of curious onlookers. The election took place in a turbulent atmosphere. In the first round, Marie lost by one vote, in the second by two votes. A total of fifty-eight votes were cast. A Nobel Prize in 1903 and the support of prominent researchers such as Jean Perrin, Henri Poincaré, Paul Appell and the permanent secretary of theAcademy, Gaston Darboux, weren't enough to pull it offAcademyopen its gates. This event attracted international attention and outrage. It deeply hurt both Marie and Édouard Branly, himself a distinguished researcher.

The Langevin Affair

However, Marie's suffering was not over yet. When Marie traveled to Belgium in early November 1911 and was invited to attend the first Solvay Conference along with the world's foremost physicists, she received news that a new campaign in the press had begun. Now it was about her private life and her relationship with her colleague Paul Langevin, who had also been invited to the conference. Having had marital problems for several years, he had moved from his suburban home to a small apartment in Paris. Marie was presented as the reason. Both have been described in a defamatory way. The scandal developed dramatically. Marie stands up in her own defense and manages to force an apology from the newspaperThe weather. On the same day, she received news from Stockholm that she had been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. But the very newspapers that made her a legend with the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1903 now completely ignored her award of the chemistry prize or reported only with a few words on the inside page. The Langevin scandal escalated into a serious affair that shook the university world in Paris and the French government at the highest levels. Madame Langevin prepared legal action to gain custody of the four children. During a burglary at Langevin's home, certain letters were stolen and delivered to the press. Léon Daudet turned the whole thing into a new Dreyfus affair. Day after day, Marie had to run the gauntlet in the newspapers: an extraterrestrial, a Polish woman, a researcher supported by our French scientists, had come and stolen the man from an honest French woman. Daudet quoted Fouquier-Tinville's infamous words, which had sent the chemist Lavoisier to the guillotine during the Revolution: "The Republic does not need scientists." Marie's friends immediately supported her. Jean Perrin, Henri Poincaré and Émile Borel addressed the editors of the newspapers. Henri Poincaré's cousin Raymond Poincaré, a high-ranking lawyer who would become President of France in a few years, was hired as an advisor. But the scandal continued to gather momentum, with front-page headlines such as "Madame Curie, can she remain a professor at the Sorbonne?" Marie remained in Sceaux with her children, where she was effectively a prisoner in her own home. Her friends feared that she would collapse. The drama culminated on the morning of November 23 when extracts from the letters were published in the newspaperThe work. There was no proof of the allegations against Marie and the authenticity of the letters could be questioned, but in the heated atmosphere few thought clearly.

In her bookmemories and encounters, Marguerite Borel describes in a dramatic way what happened. Émile Borel was extremely outraged and acted quickly. Marie had to be fetched from Sceaux and live with them until the storm passed. Marguerite and André Debierne went to Sceaux, where they found a hostile and angry crowd outside Marie's house. Someone shouted, "Go home to Poland." A rock hit the house. After they managed to persuade Marie to go with them, they led her through the crowd, holding Ève's hand. Marie sat stiff and pale as death throughout the journey. Marguerite wanted to take her hand but didn't dare. Upon their return, Marie and Ève were accommodated in two rooms in the Borel house. Henriette Perrin takes care of Irène. But the Borel house belonged to themÉcole Normale Supérieureand Émile Borel was summoned to the Minister of Education (Théodore Steeg, le ministre de l'Instruction publique), who informed him that he had no right to leave Marie Curie in his house. It would cast a shadow on themnormal school. If Borel insisted on keeping his guest, he would be fired. "So be it, I will insist," was Borel's reply. Marguerite Borel endured an uphill battle with her father, Paul Appell, then Dean of the Faculty at the Sorbonne. He was angry that the Borels were involved. He revealed that he, with several other influential people, was planning an interview with Marie to urge her to leave France: her situation in Paris was impossible. "I did everything for her, I supported her candidacyAcademy, but I cannot stem the tide that is now engulfing her." Marguerite replied, "If you give in to this idiotic nationalist movement and insist that Marie leave France, you will never see me again." Appeal, which was about to happen to put on his shoes, threw one of them against the door - but the interview with Marie didn't take place. Langevin, who had been repeatedly insulted, was forced to challenge Gustave Téry, ​​the editor of the newspaper that printed the letters, to a duel. Fighting a duel was a common form of satisfaction in France at the time, though rarely in academic circles. Newspaper publishers that had clashed in this dispute had already dueled. Swords were generally used, and a duelist was usually content with inflicting a thorough scratch on his opponent for the duel to be settled. But fatal accidents did happen. Langevin found it difficult to find seconds, but managed to persuade Paul Painlevé, a mathematician who later became Prime Minister and Director of the School of Physics and Chemistry. The duel with pistols at a distance of 25 meters was supposed to take place on the morning of November 25. Painlevé, unaccustomed to the routines, surprised everyone present by beginning to count out loud, unusually quickly: one, two, three. Téry didn't raise his gun. Langevin, who had first raised and then lowered his. No shot was fired. The journalists wrote about the silence and about the pigeons quietly feeding in the field. Despite its severity, the duel had turned into a farce.

However, the publication of the letters and the duel were too much for those responsible at the Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Marie received a letter from a memberSvante Arrhenius, in which he said the duel gave the impression that the published correspondence had not been falsified. He asked her to wire that she would not be coming to the award ceremony and to write him a letter that she did not wish to accept the award until the court case had shown Langevin that the allegations against her were absolutely unfounded. Of those most affected, it was actually Marie herself who kept her level head despite the enormous strain caused by the critical situation. In a well-formulated and matter-of-fact reply, she pointed out that she had received the award for her discovery of radium and polonium and that she could not accept the principle of influencing the appreciation of scientific work by defaming a researcher's private life. On December 6, Langevin wrote a long letter to Svante Arrhenius, whom he had met earlier. He described the whole situation, explained which circles were behind the smear campaign. He appealed to the Nobel Committee not to be swayed by a fundamentally unjust campaign. In fact, it wasn't that impacted either.

Marie gathered all her strength and delivered her Nobel Lecture on December 11th in Stockholm. The lecture should be read in the light of what she went through. Her choice of words made it clear what her contribution was in working with Pierre. She spoke about the area of ​​research that "I have called radioactivity" and "my hypothesis that radioactivity is an atomic property" without detracting from his contributions. She explained that she also sees this award as a tribute to Pierre Curie.

However, this enormous effort robbed her of all her strength. She fell into a depressed state. On December 29, she was taken to a hospital whose whereabouts were kept secret for her protection. When she had recovered somewhat, she traveled to England, where a friend, physicist Hertha Ayrton, looked after her and made sure the press was kept away. A whole year passed before she was able to work like before.

In her book, Marguerite Borel quotes the words of Jean Perrin: "Without the five of us who stood up for Marie Curie against a whole world when she was being engulfed in a dirt landslide, Marie would have returned to Poland and we would have been off marked for eternity pity.” The five were Jean and Henriette Perrin, Émile and Marguerite Borel and André Debiere.

Legal proceedings were never initiated. Langevin and his wife reached an agreement on December 9, without mentioning Marie's name. We will never know for sure what Marie Curie and Paul Langevin's relationship was like. This is what Paul Langevin's son André Langevin refers to in his 1971 biography of his father, a passion and a relationship?” As a footnote, it may be added that Paul Langevin's grandson Michel (now deceased) and Marie's granddaughter Hélène later married. Hélène Langevin-Joliot is a nuclear physicist and studied Marie and Pierre Curie's notebooks closely to get an idea of ​​how their collaboration worked.

Marie had opened up a completely new field of research: radioactivity. Various aspects of this have been studied around the world. In Uppsala Daniel Strömholm, Professor of Chemistry, andDer Schwedberg, then associate professor, studied the chemistry of the radioactive elements. In 1909 they were on the verge of discovering isotopes. However, it was the British physicistFrederick Sodywho finally clarified the concept of isotopes the following year. Marie's laboratory became the Mecca of radium research. Eva Ramstedt, who received her doctorate in physics from Uppsala in 1910, studied with Marie Curie in 1910-11 and later was associate professor of radiology at Stockholm University College in 1915-32. Norwegian chemist Ellen Gleditsch worked with Marie Curie in 1907-1912.


In 1914, when Marie was about to head one of the departments of the Institute for Radium, set up jointly by the University of Paris and the Pasteur Institute, the First World War broke out. Marie brought her two daughters Irène (17) and Ève (10) to safety in Brittany. She herself took a train to Bordeaux, a train overloaded with people leaving Paris for safer refuge. But Marie had another reason for her trip. She had a 20 kg lead container with her, in which she had deposited her precious radium. Arriving in Bordeaux, the other passengers rushed to their various destinations. There she stopped with her heavy bag, which she could not carry alone. Some official eventually helped her find a room where she slept with her heavy bag next to her bed. The next day, after taking the bag to a bank vault, she took a train back to Paris. It was now packed to the brim with soldiers. Throughout the war she was intensively involved in equipping more than 20 vans, which served as mobile field hospitals, and about 200 fixed facilities with X-ray machines.

Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (5)

Marie drives one of the radiology cars in 1917.

(Video) Marie & Pierre Curie, Henri Becquerel. The Discovery of Radioactivity and Radioactive Elements.

She trained young women in basic X-ray technology, drove one of the vans herself and was actively involved in locating metal splinters. Sometimes she found that she had to teach doctors classes in elementary geometry. Irène became involved when she was 18, and in primitive conditions, both were exposed to large doses of radiation.

After the peace agreement in 1918, her radium institute, completed in 1914, could now be opened. In the interwar years it became the most internationally renowned research institute in France. Despite this, as her French biographer Françoise Giroud points out, the French state hasn't done much to support her. Radium was industrially produced in the United States, but at a price Marie could not afford. She had to spend a lot of time collecting donations for her institute. She was also deeply involved when she became a member of the League of Nations' Commission for Intellectual Cooperation and served for a time as Vice-President. She frequently attended his meetings in Geneva, where she also met the Swedish delegate, Anna Wicksell.

young lady

Marie regularly turned down anyone who wanted to interview her. However, a prominent American journalist, Marie Maloney, known as Missy, who had long admired Marie, managed to meet her. This meeting became of great importance for both of them. Marie told Missy that researchers in the US had about 50 grams of radium available. "And then in France?" Missi asked. "My lab barely has more than one gram," was Marie's reply. "But you should have all the resources in the world to continue your research. Someone has to take care of this,” Missy said. "But who?" was Marie's resigned answer. "The women of America," Missy promised.

Missy, like Marie herself, had tremendous strength and strong inner stamina beneath a fragile exterior. She has now organized one of the largest and most successful research funding campaigns the world has ever seen. First, she got the New York newspapers to promise not to print a word about the Langevin Affair and, incredibly, to feel safe, she managed to take over all of her material on the Langevin Affair. The press made Marie hugely popular in America and everyone seemed to want to meet her - the great Madame Curie. Missy had to fight hard to get Marie to accept a program for her visit that matched the campaign. Eventually she had to turn to Paul Appell, who is now the university's rector, to persuade Marie. Despite her shyness and dislike of publicity, Marie agreed to go to America to receive the gift - a single gram of radium - from President Warren Harding. "I understand it will be of the utmost value to my institute," she wrote to Missy. When all this became known in France, the newspaper appearedI know everythingarranged a gala performance at the Paris Opera. It has been attended by France's most prominent figures, includingAristide Briand, then foreign minister, who later, in 1926, received the Nobel Peace Prize. Jean Perrin gave a speech about Marie's contribution and the future promise of her discoveries. The great Sarah Bernhardt read an "Ode to Madame Curie" with allusions to her as the sister of Prometheus. After being dragged through the mud ten years ago, she had become a modern-day Joan of Arc.

Marie and Pierre Curie and the discovery of polonium and radium (6)

Missy Maloney, Irene, Marie and Eve Curie in den USA.

Missy had resolved to arrange everything in such a way that Marie had as little trouble as possible. Nevertheless, Marie had to attend countless receptions and make a tour of American universities. Outwardly the journey was a great triumph. She was the recipient of around twenty awards in the form of honorary doctorates, medals and memberships in academies. Large crowds paid homage to her. But it was torture for Marie herself. Whenever possible, she let her two daughters represent her.

Marie and Missy became close friends. The inexhaustible Missy organized further collections for a gram of radium for an institute that Marie had helped found in Warsaw. Marie's second trip to America ended just days before the great stock market crash of 1929.

During the last ten years of her life, Marie had the joy of seeing her daughter Irène and son-in-law Frédéric Joliot carry out successful research in the laboratory. She lived to see her discovery of man-made radioactivity but not to hear that she had received the awardNobel Prize in Chemistry 1935 for it.Marie Curie died of leukemia on July 4, 1934.


It is worth mentioning that the new discoveries at the end of the 19th century also became important for the breakthrough of modern art. X-ray photography focused art on the invisible. The human body dissolved into a shimmering mist. Wassily Kandinsky, one of the pioneers of abstract painting, wrote about radioactivity in his autobiographical notes of 1901-13. He claimed that in his soul the decay of the atom was the decay of the whole world. The thickest walls had suddenly collapsed. Everything had become uncertain, uncertain and fluid. He wouldn't have been surprised if a stone in front of him had pulverized in mid-air and become invisible.

For the physicists of Marie Curie's day, the new discoveries were no less revolutionary. The world did not decay, but the classic, deterministic world view did. Radioactive decay, heat being given off from an invisible and seemingly inexhaustible source, radioactive elements being transformed into new elements, like the old alchemist's dreams of being able to make gold, all violated the deepest principles of classical physics. Understanding radioactivity required the development of quantum mechanics. However, it should be noted that the birth of quantum mechanics was not initiated by the study of radioactivity, but rather by Max Planck's study of blackbody radiation in 1900. It was an ancient field, not the subject of the same interest and publicity was like the new spectacular discoveries. It was not until 1928, more than a quarter of a century later, that the type of radioactivity known as alpha decay received its theoretical explanation. It is an example of the tunnel effect in quantum mechanics.

Much has changed in the working conditions of researchers since Marie and Pierre Curie worked in a draughty shed and refused to consider a patent as incompatible with their vision of the role of researchers; nevertheless, a patent would have made their research easier and protected their health. But in one respect the situation remains unchanged. Just as hard is nature holding onto its really deep secrets, and just as hard to predict where the answers to fundamental questions will be found.

Names mentioned in the text

Appell, Paul (1855-1930), mathematician
Arrhenius, Svante(1859-1927), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1903
Ayrton, Hertha (1854-1923), English physicist
Bequerel, Heinrich(1852-1908), Nobel Prize in Physics 1903
Borel, Emile (1871-1956), mathematician
Borel, Marguerite, author, married to Émile Borel
Branly, Edouard (1844-1940), physicist
Briand, Aristide(1862-1932), prominent French statesman, Nobel Peace Prize 1926
Brillouin, Marcel (1854-1948), theoretical physicist
Darboux, Gaston (1842-1917), mathematician
Daudet, Léon (1867-1942), editor ofFrench action
Debierne, André (1874-1949), longtime collaborator of Marie Curie
Einstein, Albert(1879-1955), Nobel Prize in Physics 1921
Giroud, Françoise (1916- ), author, former minister
Gleditsch, Ellen (1879-1968), chemist
Hertz, Heinrich (1857-1894), physicist
Langevin, Paul (1872-1946), Physicist
Lipmann, Gabriel(1845-1921), Nobel Prize in Physics 1908
Marconi, Guglielmo(1874-1937), Nobel Prize in Physics 1909
Mittag-Leffler, Gosta (1846-1927), mathematician
Moissan, Heinrich(1852-1907), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1906
Ostwald, Wilhelm(1853-1932), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1909
Painlevé, Paul (1863-1933), mathematician
Perrin, John(1870-1942) Nobel Prize in Physics 1926
Plank, Max(1858-1947), Nobel Prize in Physics 1918
Poincaré, Henri (1854-1912), mathematician, philosopher
Poincaré, Raymond (1860–1934), lawyer (President 1913–1920)
Ramstedt, Eva (1879–1974), Physikerin
Roentgen, Wilhelm Conrad(1845-1923), Nobel Prize in Physics 1901
Rutherford, Ernst(1871-1937), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1908
Soddy, Frederick(1877-1956), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1921
Strömholm, Daniel (1871-1961), Chemist, Professor at Uppsala University
Schwedberg, Der(1884-1971), Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1926


Bensuade-Vincent, Bernadette,Marie Curie, woman of science and legend, Revival of the Palace of Discovery, Vol. 16. No. 157 April 1988, 15-30.

Crawford, Elisabeth,The Beginnings of the Nobel Institution, The Science Awards 1901-1915, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, & Edition de la Maison des Sciences, Paris, 1984.

(Video) How the Genius of Marie Curie Killed Her

Curie, Eva,Frau Curie, Gallimard, Paris, 1938. In English, Doubleday, New York.

Curie, MariaPierre CurieAndAutobiographical Notes, The Macmillan Company, New York, 1923. Marie Curie later refused to authorize its publicationAutobiographical Notesin any other country.

Gleditsch, Ellen,Marie Sklodowska Curie(in Norwegian), Nordic Journal, Vol. 35, 1959.

Kandinsky, Wassily,look in the past1901-1913,The Blue Rider, Paul Klee. Franz Marc, New York, 1945.

Langevin, Others,Paul Langevin, my father,The French Publishers Gathered, Paris, 1971.

Marbo, Camille (pseudonym for Marguerite Borel),memories and encounters, Grasset, Paris, 1968.

McGrayne, Sharon BertschNobel Prize Winners in Science, Their Lives, Struggles and Significant Discoveries,A Birch Lane Press Book, Carol Publishing Group, New York, 1993.

Nobel Lectures Including Presentation Speeches and Laureate Biographies, Physics 1901-21. Published for the Nobel Foundation in 1967 by the Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam-London-New York.

Nobel Lectures Including Presentation Addresses and Laureate Biographies, Chemistry 1901-21. Published for the Nobel Foundation in 1967 by the Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam-London-New York.

Plum, Rosalynd,Grand Obsession: Madame Curie and her world, Doubleday, NewYork, 1989.

Quinn, Susan,Marie Curie: One Life, Simon & Schuster, NewYork, 1995.

Ramstedt, Eva,Marie Sklodowska Curie, cosmos. Papers on Physics (in Swedish), published by the Swedish Society of Physicists, No. 12, 1934.

Reed, Robert,Marie Curie, William Collins Sons & Co. Ltd., London, 1974.

Science, technology and society in Alfred Nobel's time.Proceedings of a Nobel Symposium. Edited by Carl Gustaf Bernhard, Elisabeth Crawford, Per Sorbom. Published for the Nobel Foundation by Pergamon Press, Oxford, 1982.

other sources

(Polish Chemical Society)
00-227 Warsaw, ul. freight
Tel: 48-22-31 80 92
Fax: 48-22-31 13 04
Ansprech partner: Malgorzata Sobieszczak-Marciniak

site ofThe Institute Curie and History(in French)

* Originally presented as a lecture at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm, Sweden on February 28, 1996.

Translation from Swedish into English by Nancy Marshall-Lundén.

(Video) 20th April 1902: Marie and Pierre Curie prove the existence of radium by isolating radium chloride

First published December 1, 1996


What did Marie Curie and Pierre Curie discover? ›

Marie Curie

Did Marie Curie discover radium and polonium at the same time? ›

And Marie was proven right: in 1898 the Curies discovered two new radioactive elements: radium (named after the Latin word for ray) and polonium (named after Marie's home country, Poland). Question: Was she awarded another Nobel Prize?

What did Marie Curie do to discover radium? ›

Marie extracted pure radium salts from pitchblende, a highly radioactive ore obtained from mines in Bohemia. The extraction required tons of the substance, which she dissolved in cauldrons of acid before obtaining barium sulphate and other alkalines, which she then purified and converted into chlorides.

What did the discovery of radium and polonium do? ›

Discovery of radium and polonium caused rapid and, initially, completely uncontrolled use of radium in all fields of life and medicine.

Why was the discovery of radium important? ›

Chemists considered that the discovery and isolation of radium was the greatest event in chemistry since the discovery of oxygen. That for the first time in history it could be shown that an element could be transmuted into another element, revolutionized chemistry and signified a new epoch.

Why did Marie think the radium samples glowed? ›

She suggested that the powerful rays, or energy, the polonium and radium gave off were actually particles from tiny atoms that were disintegrating inside the elements. Marie's findings contradicted the widely held belief that atoms were solid and unchanging.

What was Marie Curie's most famous quote? ›

"Nothing in life is to be feared; it is only to be understood." "I am one of those who think like Nobel, that humanity will draw more good than evil from new discoveries."

Why was the discovery of polonium important? ›

But the district's engineers began studying polonium and found the element to be an important ingredient for their nuclear weapon. A combination of polonium and beryllium, another rare element, acted as the bomb's initiator, according to the Atomic Heritage Foundation.

Why is Marie Curie so important? ›

What did Marie Curie accomplish? Working with her husband, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie discovered polonium and radium in 1898. In 1903 they won the Nobel Prize for Physics for discovering radioactivity. In 1911 she won the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for isolating pure radium.

Did Marie Curie know radium was harmful? ›

Utterly aware of radium's extraordinary powers but also its perils—as much as the knowledge of her times allowed—Curie regulated her own laboratory first. She suggested that researchers have blood tests regularly and that they exercise and get fresh air.

Why did Marie Curie discover polonium? ›

History and Uses: Polonium was discovered by Marie Sklodowska Curie, a Polish chemist, in 1898. She obtained polonium from pitchblende, a material that contains uranium, after noticing that unrefined pitchblende was more radioactive than the uranium that was separated from it.

How long did it take Marie Curie to discover radium and polonium? ›

It took Marie over three years to isolate one-tenth of a gram of pure radium chloride, and she never succeeded in isolating polonium because of its very short half-life: 138 days.

How did the Radium Girls get poisoned? ›

The Radium Girls were female factory workers who contracted radiation poisoning from painting watch dials with self-luminous paint.

Who died from polonium poisoning? ›

On 1 November 2006, Litvinenko was poisoned and later hospitalized. He died on 23 November, becoming the first confirmed victim of lethal polonium-210-induced acute radiation syndrome.

How did the discovery of radium change the world? ›

Curie believed scientific research was a public good and championed its utility. She and her husband had discovered that radium destroyed diseased cells faster than healthy cells, and thus that radiation could be used to treat tumours.

Why did people believe radium was good? ›

After Curie showed that radium could be used to destroy cancerous cells, people assumed that the new element had miraculous healing properties and started putting it in everything from body lotions to cough syrups. “Cancerous cells are more sensitive to radiation than healthy ones.

Why did radium make people feel better? ›

The invigorating effects of the radium give a pleasant sense of well being to the radio-activity absorbed by one's body, which is retained for several hours after the treatment,” the article said.

Are any Radium Girls still alive? ›

The article stated that Radium Girls were also in Connecticut, working at the Waterbury Clock Company. The article went on to say that all of them had died except for one: Mae Keane, a 107-year-old Radium Girl, who lived 30 minutes from my home.

Did Marie Curie keep radium in her pocket? ›

It is indisputable that Marie Curie was one of the most important contributors to the world of science and health care — but she did so at the expense of her own health. As she continued to investigate the subject with her husband, Pierre, Marie carried bottles of polonium and radium in her coat pocket.

What did the Radium Girls teach us? ›

The plight of the Radium Girls in the 1920s would teach us a great deal about the radioactive element radium and its effect on the human body. It brought to light the dangers of working with radium and created a universal understanding of the need for occupational and radiation safety measures.

What were Marie Curie's last words? ›

“Radium,” she said. “Radium?” “Those were her last words— 'Was it done with radium or with mesothorium?

What was Marie Curie's most important discovery? ›

Radium and polonium

The Curies shared the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics with Becquerel. And Skłodowska-Curie won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1911 for the discovery of radium and polonium and the isolation of radium, which provided science with a method for isolating and purifying radioactive isotopes.

What did Albert Einstein say to Marie Curie? ›

Albert Einstein's letter to Marie Curie #OnThisDay 23 November 1911 when he told her to ignore the haters: "Highly esteemed Mrs Curie, Do not laugh at me for writing you without having anything sensible to say.

What is the main purpose of polonium? ›

Polonium is an alpha-emitter, hence it is used in antistatic devices and for research purposes. It is used in the form of a thin film on a stainless steel disc as an alpha-particle source. It is used to eliminate static electricity produced during processes such as rolling paper, wire and sheet metal.

What did Marie Curie contribute to the atomic theory? ›

Thus, she deduced that radioactivity does not depend on how atoms are arranged into molecules, but rather that it originates within the atoms themselves. This discovery is perhaps her most important scientific contribution.

Why is polonium the perfect poison? ›

Polonium-210: the perfect poison? In addition to being lethal, polonium is the perfect poison for another reason: the fact it is so hard to detect. Doctors such as the ones caring for Litvinenko in University College Hospital, London, often can mistake it for simpler poisons, which could derail an investigation.

What were Marie Curie's weaknesses? ›

She suffered throughout her life from bouts of depression. As a mother, she was driven more by a desire to fulfill her parental duties than by any strong affection for her daughters.

What is radium used in today? ›

Radium's main practical use has been in medicine, producing radon gas from radium chloride to be used in radiotherapy for cancer.

What was Marie Curie's IQ? ›

Marie Curie: IQ 180–200

Not only was Marie Curie the first woman to win the Nobel Prize, but she was also the first person to win it twice. Most of her work focused on radioactivity—discoveries that contributed to the development of X-rays used during surgery.

What two elements did Marie Curie discover and what was the significance of their names? ›

And Marie was proven right: in 1898 the Curies discovered two new radioactive elements: radium (named after the Latin word for ray) and polonium (named after Marie's home country, Poland).

Why was Marie Curie buried twice? ›

Twice Buried. Our favorite two-time Nobel laureate was also buried twice! Madame Curie died of leukemia attributed to her radioactive work, and was buried alongside her husband Pierre in 1934. However, their remains would be re-interred at the Panthéon in 1995 with full honors.

Did the Radium Girls bodies glow? ›

The women hired to paint dials came to be known as “ghost girls” because the radium dust to which they were exposed daily made their clothes, hair, and skin literally glow. Many of the women wore their best dresses on the job so the fabric would shine brilliantly when they went dancing after work.

Why did Radium Girls Lick brush? ›

The factory manufactured glow-in-the-dark watch dials that used radium to make them luminous. The women would dip their brushes into radium, lick the tip of the brushes to give them a precise point, and paint the numbers onto the dial. That direct contact and exposure led to many women dying from radium poisoning.

How were Radium Girls buried? ›

I'm standing in Ottawa's Oakwood Memorial Park with Darlene Halm and Kathleen Cofoid. They're descendants of two of the original radium girls, Peg Looney and Catherine Donohue, who are buried here in lead-lined coffins.

Can polonium poisoning be cured? ›

There are no treatments just for polonium-210 poisoning. The treatment given would be for radiation exposure.

Can you survive polonium poisoning? ›

At high doses, this can lead to confusion, convulsion, and coma within minutes of the poisoning. Finally, the person will either die or recover. If they do not recover, they will die within weeks or months. Anyone who survives may take months to recover.

What happens if you touch polonium? ›

So long as polonium is kept out of the human body, it poses little danger because the alpha particles travel no more than a few centimeters and cannot pass through skin. But if polonium is ingested, even in the tiniest quantity, it will so badly damage internal organs that they shut down and death is certain.

When did Marie and Pierre Curie make his discovery? ›

December 1898: The Curies Discover Radium. Pierre and Marie Curie shortly after their wedding. Pierre and Jacques Curie's electrometer. Women physicists were a rarity in the 19th century, but even rarer were husband-and-wife collaborative teams.

What was Marie Curie's first discovery? ›

She named the first chemical element she discovered polonium, after her native country.

What was invented by Pierre Curie? ›

In his early studies on crystallography, together with his brother Jacques, Curie discovered piezoelectric effects. Later, he advanced theories of symmetry with regard to certain physical phenomena and turned his attention to magnetism.

How did the discovery of radium changed the world? ›

Curie believed scientific research was a public good and championed its utility. She and her husband had discovered that radium destroyed diseased cells faster than healthy cells, and thus that radiation could be used to treat tumours.

What is the story behind the discovery of radioactivity? ›

When Henri Becquerel investigated the newly discovered X-rays in 1896, it led to studies of how uranium salts are affected by light. By accident, he discovered that uranium salts spontaneously emit a penetrating radiation that can be registered on a photographic plate.

What two elements did Marie Curie discover? ›

And Marie was proven right: in 1898 the Curies discovered two new radioactive elements: radium (named after the Latin word for ray) and polonium (named after Marie's home country, Poland).


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