This is the International Year of Chemistry, 2011 and it also marks the 100th anniversary of the award of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry to Marie Curie. Has there ever been a scientist as courageous as Madam Curie?
Marie Curie was not afraid to take risks. Her forceful character led her to a level of independence unusual for her time. In France during this period, gifted women were scorned and looked down upon. When studying in Paris Curie lived alone for three years. This life she wrote later, gave her a sense of liberty and independence. The period gave her the strength of character she needed to undergo the immense labor necessary to concentrate uranium in order to study radium.
Curie was nearly fearless in her drive to discover. She discovered two of the most dangerous elements in the world: radium and polonium. Polonium is extremely toxic – by mass, 250,000 times more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. She worked in primitive X-ray rooms to help save wounded WWI soldiers. For her trouble she was poisoned by radiation and Curie’s death was almost certainly related to radiation exposure.
Read Mythbuster Adam Savage’s review of The Practical Pyromaniac in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal: http://on.wsj.com/PracPyroWSJ