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Medical Pioneers – Marie Curie

Science - admin - March 21, 2019

One of the most famous pioneers of medicine is Marie Curie, who is remembered for her discovery of polonium and radium which provided hugely significant leaps forward in the fight against cancer.
She was born in 1867 in Warsaw, Poland and was the youngest of five children, born to a poor family. Her parents were school teachers, but after the death of her mother, there was no support financially, so Marie was forced to become a governess. With a passion for learning, she continued to read and study whenever she could.
Sadly, she could not enter the teaching profession as there was no money to pay for higher education. Relief came in 1891 however, when her sister gave her a place to live in Paris with the idea that she might attend university. She attended the Sorbonne where she studied Maths and Physics.


In 1894, she joined Pierre Curie, another scientist, and together they both became researchers for the School of Chemistry and Physics in Paris. They began to research the invisible rays emitted from uranium, which had recently been discovered by Professor Henri Becquerel. It had been demonstrated that rays could pass through solids, photographic film and fog which then caused the air to become a conductor of electricity.
Marie discovered that a mineral called pitchblende, containing uranium ore, was much more radioactive than pure uranium. The high readings must have meant that some other element was also in the pitchblende. As it had remained hidden thus far, the quantities must have been tiny. She became convinced that she had discovered a new element, although others doubted her beliefs.
Determined to continue their research, Pierre and Marie eventually extracted a black powder which was found to be 330 times more radioactive than uranium. Polonium had been discovered and was given atomic number 84.
Not giving up there, the Curies noticed that once they had extracted the polonium, there was a liquid left that was also highly radioactive. This was compelling evidence that another element was present in even lesser quantities. In 1898, the Curies published their evidence of this new element and called it radium, even though they still had no physical evidence of it.
Pitchblende was an expensive mineral because of its uranium content. Marie contacted a factory in Austria and purchased a few tonnes of the waste product which was cheaper and still more radioactive than pitchblende. She worked on a much larger scale in trying to extract the substances by a process of grinding, filtering, dissolving, crystallising and collecting.


It was tough and dangerous work, and soon the Curies began to feel unwell. It is understood nowadays that these were the early signs of radiation sickness. They never stopped their research, even working with sore, inflamed and raw hands from handling the radioactive materials.
By 1902, Marie successfully isolated radium after a long, dangerous and hard process.
The following year, both Marie and Pierre were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for Physics, as well as Henri Becquerel for is separate work on radioactivity. Following the tragic death of Pierre in 1906, she continued her work and received a further Nobel Peace Prize in 1911 for developing a way to measure levels of radioactivity. Be a medical pioneer in your own way and participate in Paid Research Studies with https://www.trials4us.co.uk
Marie Curie worked to develop a mobile x-ray unit that could be used to diagnose injuries on the battlefronts of the First World War. She led the Red cross Radiological Service, touring Paris asking for donations, vehicles, money and supplies. Towards the end of 1914, her mobile units, known as ‘Petits Curies’ were ready for service. Both Marie and her daughter worked at field hospitals near the front line, using the x-ray machines to locate the bullets, shrapnel and fractures of injured soldiers.

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