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Radiation Pioneer – Marie Curie

By November 6, 2018 Radon Education

Marie Curie was born on November 7, 1867 in Warsaw, Poland. She was the youngest of 5 children and both of her parents were well known teachers. In 1891, Curie enrolled in physics, chemistry, and mathematics at the University of Paris.

Discovery of Polonium and Radium

Starting in 1896, Curie began running tests on uranium rays. She performed her tests using an electrometer. As a result, Curie would soon learn that uranium rays conduct electricity in the air around them. Thus, she hypothesized that radiation was not caused by interactions between atoms but from the atom itself. Curie’s findings were a crucial step in proving that atoms were divisible.

In 1898 Curie found two new elements. Polonium was the first and named for her home country Poland. Followed by Radium, named for the Latin word radius, meaning ray. Additionally, Curie coined the term “radioactivity”, due to the electrical contact between the new elements and the air around them.

In 1903, Curie was awarded a Nobel Prize in physics. She was the first woman to ever win a Nobel Prize. Shortly after, Curie took a job as physics chair at the University of Paris. She became the university’s first woman professor. In 1909, fearing that Curie would quit, the University of Paris helped Curie to create the Radium Institute. It was here that Curie was able to isolate radium. Furthermore, she defined an international standard for radioactive emissions named for her late husband, the curie.

Marie Curie was awarded a second Noble Prize in 1911. This time for chemistry and her discovery of polonium and radium. Curie was the first person to receive 2 Nobel Prizes. To this day she is still 1 of only 2 people to achieve this.


Marie Curie passed away at the age of 66. The harmful effects of radiation were not known at this time. Thus, Curie had no idea the toll her studies were taking on her. Handling radium and performing x-rays during the war ultimately lead to her death. In 1995, her remains were moved to Parthenon in Paris. Curie became the first woman to be honored with interment in the Parthenon. As of 2015, 3 woman have had this honor.

To this day, Curie’s papers from 1890 are still considered to dangerous to handle. Therefore, they are held in special lead lined boxes. Due to their level of contamination, people wishing to read them must wear special protective clothing.

Radon and Alpha Track Tests

While studying radium, a gas was found emanating from the atom. Radon, became the fifth radioactive element discovered. Moreover, radon gas kept its radioactivity. Consequently, radon was given a Group 1 carcinogenic grade. Simply put, it is known that radon causes cancer..

Radonova manufactures alpha track radon tests. Devices are made of a plastic housing and a CR39 chip. Detectors are placed in homes, schools, and workplaces. Air containing radon enters the detector. Alpha particles leave the atom at a such a speed they leave tracks on the CR39.

Similarly, radon is inhaled in the air we breathe. Thus, particles will damage lung tissue when leaving the atom in your lungs. For that reason, radon is the highest leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

Daniel Roak

Author Daniel Roak

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