Radiation and Marie Curie

One more update for you within our month of scientific discovery and inventions that impacted history! Today we will talk about Marie Curie and her discovery of radio which drove her entire career, and that of her husband. Marie Curie lived a very interesting life, however I will be focusing more on her discovery of radiation and how it has impacted us now. I do apologize for the shortness of post in advance, but I have been incredibly busy in the last few months!

So, first off, I had better tell you of the life of this remarkable woman. Her maiden name was Marie Sklodowska and was born in Warsaw in 1867, and she would go to Paris and then studied to graduate in physics in 1893 and mathematics in 1894. Clearly a bright woman! She would soon meet a man by the name of Pierre Curie. He was a professor at the School of Physics, and with the help of his brother, had discovered piezo-electricity.

Marie had made headways into the research of radiation, and was soon joined by her husband who was fascinated by what she had done and found and constructed sensitive laboratory equipment. So perhaps it should be really classed as a team effort!

According to the Science Museum, (where I have accumulated most of my blog post), Marie carried out the chemical separations and her husband, Pierre took the measurements. ‘In July 1898, using basic chemical refining methods, they isolated a product from pitchblende about 400 times more active than uranium. This they named polonium in honour of Marie’s native Poland’. However this was just the start of it all, they would carry on with the refining which was noted by Marie as exhausting until the winter of 1898 where the couple announced the discovery of an even more radioactive substance which they would call radium. This discovery had far-reaching effects; opening up the fields of radiotherapy and nuclear medicine.

Sadly her husband would die in 1906, which would leave her with her two remaining daughters. However, Marie would not give up on her work. During the First World War she had established a front-line X-ray service in the battlefields of Belgium and France, she would do many tasks such as fundraising, training staff and driving the X-ray vans. This could be labelled as even a bigger achievement as she used her knowledge to help the front line soldier, saving many lives.

Her work would however prove fatal as she eventually died in 1934 from the cumulative effects of radiation exposure. It must be noted as well that once radium was found it was used in all sorts of day-to-day materials, even toothpaste, which had disastrous consequences!

Her work has helped millions of lives from then to now.  In a way we take the discovery of radiation for granted, its in our every day’s life.   However one must note that there is a danger of relying on such technology too much, and sometimes, specifically in the medical field, you just can’t beat the human mind.


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