Marie Curie by Kathleen Krull

By Kathleen Krull

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A blistering sore developed. It healed slowly, but left a permanent gray scar. The Curies took careful notes, disregarding personal injury, thinking only of the meaning for science. “This shouldn’t frighten people,” Pierre stressed. If radium burned healthy skin tissue, could it be used to destroy diseased tissue? Pierre experimented on animals with cancerous tumors—mice, rabbits, and guinea pigs. Yes, he found out, cancer cells could be destroyed with normal tissue growing back. But then, in a later experiment, he put mice and guinea pigs into confined spaces with radium salts.

To do so would require huge amounts of pitchblende. She searched far and wide, locating a uranium mine in Bohemia, now part of the Czech Republic. It supplied potters who made yellow glazes from uranium for the vases and dishes that the area was renowned for. The mine was willing to send the Curies ten tons of pitchblende residue, as long as they paid to have it shipped. To the mine it was waste material, basically worthless. All the uranium was gone from it. To Marie it was priceless. A wealthy baron donated money for the shipping costs.

It certainly seemed that way. After being back at work for six weeks of experiments, the Curies discovered a substance nine hundred times as radioactive as pure uranium. And it produced new and unique spectral lines. Six days later, on december 20, 1898, she sent off a new paper to the Academy announcing the discovery of another new element. ” The name came from “radius,” the Latin for ray, used for the element’s intense radioactivity. discovering the two elements had taken one year. Marie couldn’t have done it without Pierre’s help.

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