Some of the greatest medical advancements in the modern age involve the use of many different types of radiation. Radiation therapy is used in treating multiple different types of cancer, and radiation from certain elements are put in X-ray tubes to save countless lives and prevent permanent injury wherever possible. Many organisations also use it for security, as well as the general use in the everyday home. These advancements and many more were based on the work of Marie Curie, renowned female physics researcher. To make a list of people that changed the world for the better we need a way to separate the great, from the truly amazing. One important factor is that they helped people in their time period, and this is made more impressive if they sacrificed themselves to do this. Their work needs to still be felt today, either directly through their efforts, or from advances that have built on what they started. Finally, if the person has been recognised for other awards then that obviously bolsters their position as they have already proven to others that they are worthy of recognition.
To change the world for the better, you must do something that helps people. Curie spent all of her working life developing technologies that were used in medicine, directly helping the people around her. She focused most of her energies on discovering, and then researching the properties of Radium and Polonium1. The properties of these elements, Radium in particular, were used to burn away diseased cells in the body2, which we now know to include cancer. As well as this, she also helped make X-Rays more accessible and discovered further ways in which they could be used. This is demonstrated in the work Curie did with her eldest daughter during WWI, setting up 20 mobile X-ray units3 and teaching people how to operate them, as well as taking their own unit to the Western Front.
Throughout the war over 1 million people were X-rayed, helping doctors save lives and prevent people from being permanently maimed. In her later life Curie was the director of the Radium Institute in Paris. She recognised that science had become a more specialised field and organised the laboratory with this in mind. It was a major institute devoted to the study of radium and its properties, but it did so by separating scientists into small groups that focused their energies on a particular aspect of radiology. These efforts increased the rate of new innovations and increased our overall knowledge of radiation’s uses and dangers.
It is these dangers that constitute part of her posthumous bid for this title. While not essential to be a person who changed the world for the good, if you put yourself through difficult trials and tribulations society puts your efforts in higher regard, as others are less likely to do so. For example, many people would say that although Bill Gates helped the world with the advent of Microsoft, but for all of his contributions the world values him less because of the wealth he has accumulated. In complete contrast to this, the research Curie did that has helped billions of people over the years since her discoveries ended up killing her.
Her death in itself helped people, as she was likely the first person to die from radiation poisoning it became apparent that these elements could be dangerous in high dosages and adequate care must be taken. While it cannot be denied that she won a substantial amount of money from receiving two Nobel prizes as well as other awards she put this back into her research as can be observed through her campaigning to receive funds so she could afford another gram of radium for her research4.
During the first World War Marie Curie created a real use for the more reliable and effective X-tubes she had developed. To help fund these 20 lifesaving devices, Curie sold off the gold Nobel prize medals she and her husband won4. After they were sent to the Front it became apparent that the medical staff were not aware of how to fully take advantage of the technology, as it had not yet entered most hospitals. To help relieve this issue, Ms Curie herself joined these X-ray units and travelled the Western Front.
She did this on a battlefield in which it is estimated that around 8 million people died on over the course of the war. This put her in the way of much harmful radiation with none of the protection that is offered today, and with less developed X-ray machines that created a greater amount of harmful rays. There had already been mutterings of the harmful effects of exposure to these conditions, so it cannot be claimed she took these risks in ignorance of the dangers. Nevertheless, she continued contributing to the war effort, saving more lives than any brilliant tactical manoeuvre which have attracted far more praise.
We still use Curies research today in the treating of many different types of illnesses. It was her initial mothering of Radiation that has meant that these discoveries have been possible in the current timeframe. While it cannot be doubted that if it wasn’t for her we still would have discovered some of these properties, we would potentially be many years behind in the battle against cancer, which would mean hundreds more unnecessary deaths every year. X-rays still form a big part of treatment plans in hospitals worldwide5 with it being the main method to quickly look at a person’s skeletal structure and diagnose broken bones as well as finding foreign objects inside someone. While there are other more accurate methods of finding information about peoples interior, they are more time consuming and often not suited to trauma cases where the line between life and death is mere seconds wide.
The research into radiation has also been applied for other more mundane purposes. Some of Marie Curie’s research is used at airports in the X-ray scanners that protect over 100 million people every year6 from potential threats. It has the unique ability of being able to scan through all bags quickly without damaging the contents, revealing everything that could be potentially dangerous.
Radiation is also used in high quality smoke detectors and luminous watches. Other uses include the tubes of some older TV’s, without which we may never have invested the resources into developing better, more cost effective means of producing what is today such an essential part of everyday life7. Curie’s life has also taught people about the dangers faced by scientists and how their work can lead to many different types of illnesses. It is because we know this we can now protect ourselves from the possible harmful effects of radiation.
Whilst not essential criteria to be added to this list, if other organisations have recognised her contribution for their prizes, then we should take their considerations into account. Because she has qualified for these other awards it adds credibility to the claim that she has changed the world for the better. Throughout her life, Curie received many awards, most notably two Nobel Prizes, in Physics and Chemistry, she was the first to receive two Nobel prizes, and the only woman to have done so to this day. She has also been given the Davy Medal, for a discovery in Chemistry (Discovery of new elements), as well as the Matteucci Medal for making fundamental discoveries in Physics. This means that she has actually done ground-breaking work, creating an entirely new field – the field of Radiology, which today is a significant medical specialty. She has also been given the Elliot Cresson Medal for her discovery of the properties of Radon and applying them to the use of X-rays, making them more effective and easier to use, as well as the application of her discoveries to the treatment of cancer. 8
To be included on a list of people that have changed the world for the better is a huge honour. We all like to think that we have made a difference, but to be so committed that you will forgo your own safety takes a special kind of person. Marie Curie demonstrated to the world that she is this person. In addition, her efforts have been felt for many years after her life, and will continue to be appreciated indefinitely. Throughout her life Marie Curie worked tirelessly for the expansion of scientific knowledge in the area of radiation, and found many uses for her discoveries. Her life, and even her death helps mankind to save the lives of thousands of people every day and this is why she should be recognised as having one of the greatest positive impacts on the world to date.
http://www.spaceandmotion.com/physics-marie-curie-biography.htm http://www.discoveriesinmedicine.com/To-Z/X-ray-Machine.html#b http://www.bts.gov/press_releases/2009/bts019_09/html/bts019_09.html http://hps.org/publicinformation/ate/q824.html
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