Though this Monday, November 7th 2011, Google celebrated the life of Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie, renowned scientist responsible with her husband for discovering radium and polonium, it’s the lesser known facts about this woman and her legacy that might strike you as the most interesting. If you’re a member of the scientific community, especially if you’re studying physics and/or chemistry in a general way, you’ll more than likely already know that Curie’s contributions to the fields are more than notable enough to deserver recognition from Google. What you might NOT know is that because of the low level of awareness of the dangers of working with radioactive materials in her time, the many papers she wrote and the tools she worked with throughout her studies are not safe to touch by humans today.
If there’s one thing I love about Marie Curie, it’s how everything she touched turned completely deadly to humans. For real! After more than 100 years, Curie’s remaining belongings and her many scholarly works must remain in lead-lined boxes lest they make the area around them as radioactive as they are. Students and workers wishing to handle anything Curie physically worked with or on in her lifetime that remains in the collection at France’s Bibliotheque National Library must both wear protective clothing and sign a waiver liability.
Marie’s lab was one of some note in the CSMonitor‘s quoted autobiography by Curie where historian Philipp Blom notes that she’d written:
“One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights.” – Curie
Lovely lights, nothing could go wrong! Marie’s husband and co-worker Peierre Curie once went so far as to tie a chunk of Radium to his arm for 10 hours, deciding that because the chunk had burned him after this amount of time, that he’d cured cancer. Just imagine how red his face must have been when he found out that he’d essentially irreversibly coated himself with a deadly element that would forever then eat him apart from the “inside, outside, lead-coated-coffin,” if you know what I mean.
One of the more interesting ways to make yourself immortal is to create a bit of artwork that outlasts your physical body. You can also make a baby. Thirdly, you can handle radioactive materials and cause everything you ever touched to be deadly unless handled with special protective gear. Marie Curie, we will remember you always.