How radioactivity was studied

Hi,
today I want to write about radioactivity. It is rather new concept which is not very surprising as the process of radioactive decay is not very visible and the effects (on health for example) are not so clearly connected since they usually have long time span. Probably largest work done on this topic was by Marie Curie and her husband Pierre.

This is how radium dials looked like, cute!


Curie was from Poland. She had kind of difficult childhood since women were persecuted at that time in the east and it was hard for her to find place to study. Later on, she was able to move to Paris with her sister. There she met Pierre with whom she had two kids.

The first time she encountered with radioactivity was when she measured pitchblende [1] and uranium and how much radioactivity they  were “giving off”.

She expected that pure uranium would be much stronger but this was not what happened, what she found was exact opposite. Later on, thanks to this she found out two new elements: Polonium and Radium.


At this time it was not yet known that you can get pretty easily cancer by being close to radioactive stuff. Curie and Pierre were buying tens of kilograms of pitchblende to do their research and prove those two new elements since lot of other scientists were kind of sceptic about it.

In November of 1898 they extracted compound that was 900x more radioactive than uranium, you can see where this was going.

In 1902 it was announced that one decigram of radium chloride was succesfully isolated.

Four years later Pierre died when wheel of carriege run over his skull, this was because of the effects of radioactivity, at this point he was not really able to use his hands, they were pretty much destroyed by the pitchblende and his whole health was in very bad state.

In 20′ it started to be more and more clear that there is something wrong with the stuff. There was actuall factory that painted dials with radium (not pure of course), this is because it glows nicely and everyone liked it. The brushes that were used for this had to be kept sharp and this was done by lips. For this work about 4,000 people were hired, the so called “Radium Girls” was a group of women that also painted for fun their nails, face and teeth, noone knows how many sacrifices this caused.

Dragallur

[1] Pitchblende is mineral that is radioactive since there is uranium and other heavy elements. Lot of miners in extreme conditions died because they were mining it.

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