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Marie Curie: Radioactivity and X rays Essay

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Marie Curie was born Marie Sklodowska on November 7th, 1867. She was born in Warsaw, Poland (“Marie Curie – Biography” par 1). Curie received her education from local schools; but her knowledge of science from her father. She obtained “Licentiateships in Physics and the Mathematical Sciences” from Sorbonne University, in Paris (“Marie Curie – Biography” par 1). Curie also received her Doctor of Science degree at Sorbonne as well. Marie Curie married Professor Pierre Curie after meeting him during university. The two wed within the year that they met.

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(“Marie Curie – Biography” par 1).

Marie Curie, with the help of her husband Pierre Curie, and with past discoveries of Antoine Becquerel, discovered radioactivity, which explained the creation of the x ray. It first started off with Antoine Becquerel, a French physicist. “Becquerel was familiar with the work of Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen,” which were the photographs that Roentgen had taken (Peters and Slowiczek par 3). These photographs were unique in their kind. One of the photographs that were taken was one of his wife’s hands, complete with her ring. This photo showed the skeletal structure of her hand, and the ring that was placed on top (Peters and Slowiczek par 4).

Roentgen’s wife placed her hand in the path of x rays, which Roentgen created himself. He created x rays “by beaming an electron ray energy source onto a cathode tube.” (Peters and Slowiczek par 4). These “photographs” intrigued Becquerel, inducing him to research the phenomena of florescence and phosphorescence. In March of 1896, he discovered that florescence and phosphorescence were similar to each other; as well as to x rays, but there is also an important difference. The difference between the three was florescence and x rays stopped, when the starting energy force was halted; but the phosphorescence continued (Peters and Slowiczek par 5).

A similarity between the three was the energy was initially derived from an outside source (Peters and Slowiczek par 5). Becquerel tried to harness the sun’s energy; making it the initial source of energy for the different rays, but that was not possible. Source: National Health Museum

He put his wrapped photographic plates away in a darkened drawer, along with some crystals containing uranium. Much to his Becquerel’s surprise, the plates were exposed during storage by invisible emanations from the uranium. The emanations did not require the presence of an initiating energy source–the crystals emitted rays on their own! Although Becquerel did not pursue his discovery of radioactivity, others did and, in so doing, changed the face of both modern medicine and modern science. (Peters and Slowiczek par 6).

Following up on Becquerel’s research; the Curies, Marie and Pierre, begun a life commitment to radioactivity research. Marie Curie stated that “The subject seemed to us very attractive and all the more so because the question was entirely new and nothing yet had been written upon it.” when it came to radioactivity (Peters and Slowickez par 7). The Curies used Becquerel’s note on how air could be a conductor of electricity because of uranium, as well as using sensitive instruments created by Pierre and his brother. On February 17, 1898, an ore of uranium, pitchblende, was tested by the Curies. Time and time again, the result was that the pitchblende created a current 300 times stronger than pure uranium. The Curies thus came up with the conclusion that an active unknown substance, as well as the uranium, still exists in the pitchblende (Peters and Slowickez par 8).

The “hypothesized” element was named polonium, in honour of Curie’s native land, Poland; they labelled this element “radio-active,” as well as introducing this term. The Curies were able to extort enough polonium and radium, which is another radioactive element, establishing the chemical elements of both. Marie Curie worked alongside Pierre, “to establish the first quantitative standards by which the rate of radioactive emission of charged particles from elements could be measured and compared” even after her husband died (Peters and Slowickez par 9). Curie also managed to discover that there was a decrease in the radioactivity, and it could be predicted, since can be calculated; as well as the realization of which radiation is atomic property of matter, rather than a separate independent emanation (Peters and Slowickez par 9).

The scientific discovery of x rays and radioactivity addressed global issues. The global issue that mainly x rays addressed is health care. X rays affected, and still effects health care because of what it was designed to do. This helps doctors determine many things, such as broken bones, tooth decay, and anything relating to the bone structure of someone, or animal. Radioactivity helped humans in a couple of ways as well. There are a couple of uses for radioactivity today. One of the uses is to create nuclear energy, which in the end is used to create electricity. Another use for radioactive materials is radiation. Radiation is used to treat cancer patients; in hope of killing the source of cancerous cells, and removing the cancer from someone’s body. The discovery of x rays and radioactivity did indeed help solve a problem; and benefited the global community.

One problem that radioactivity solved was an energy issue. Radioactivity provided scientists with a new method of energy that was more environmentally friendly than combusting petroleum. This method is nuclear power plants. Nuclear power plants harness the energy that is released from a type of uranium or U-235 (“EIA Energy Kids – Uranium (nuclear).” par 5). X rays have benefited mankind in the world of medicine, as well as safety. X rays are now available in hospitals. X rays can check for broken bones, fractures, tooth decay, and other bone related issues. X rays are not only used in hospitals. Airports around the world use x rays to check baggage over; making sure that there are no dangerous weapons stored in luggage; or any illegal drugs; etc. (Eaton par 3).

Source: Fast Company

For every invention or discovery, there are advantages and limitations. The advantages of x rays and radioactivity are numerous. X rays can detect bone damage, artery damage and supply airports with safety measures. Radioactivity is used to harness the energy of U-235 to create nuclear power for a source of electricity, as well as radiation treatments. The limitations of x rays and radioactivity include raise the risk of cancer infecting the body, damaging the cells, causing cell mutations, birth defects, among other things as well (“Pros and Cons of X-rays” par 2).

Scientists’ contributions have improved some aspects of society. One aspect of society would be politically. X rays are now being used in airports to check baggage for any weaponry; or anything that could be made into an explosive. All of these measures are being taken due to the terrorist bombing of September 11, 2001.

Security measures have tightened up since then, and are becoming stricter ever since, since there are increasing amounts of terrorist threats to hijack planes, or bomb planes (Eaton par 7). Another contribution that is effected is social aspects. X rays and radioactivity affect people’s health in numerous ways. They can either help damage a person’s health, or help correct. Radioactivity can cause mutations, birth defects, and many other problem, while an x ray can help correct a broken bone, or decaying tooth by showing the area of damage, so doctors can take proper procedures.

Works Cited

Eaton, Kit. “Full-Body Scanners at Airports: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly | Fast Company.” FastCompany.com – Where Ideas and People Meet | Fast Company. Fast Company, 30 Dec. 2009. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.fastcompany.com/blog/kit-eaton/technomix/full-body-scanners-airports-good-bad-and-ugly>.

“EIA Energy Kids – Uranium (nuclear).” Energy Information Administration – EIA – Official Energy Statistics from the U.S. Government. Energy Information Administration. Web. 16 May 2010. <http://www.eia.doe.gov/kids/energy.cfm?page=nuclear_home-basics>.

“Marie Curie – Biography.” Nobelprize.org. Nobel Prize. Web. 14 May 2010. <http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/physics/laureates/1903/marie-curie-bio.html>.

Peters, Pamela M., and Fran Slowiczek. “The Discovery Of Radioactivity: The Dawn of the Nuclear Age.” Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum. National Health Museum. Web. 15 May 2010. <http://www.accessexcellence.org/AE/AEC/CC/radioactivity.php>.

“Pros and Cons of X-rays.” The Brunei Times. 4 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 May 2010. <http://www.bt.com.bn/health_fitness/2007/12/04/pros_and_cons_of_x_rays>.

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