Marie Curie's Research Papers Are Still Radioactive 100+ Years Later
J Thoendell stashed this in Science
When researching a famous historical figure, access to their work and materials usually proves to be one of the biggest obstacles. But things are much more difficult for those writing about the life of Marie Curie, the scientist who, along her with husband Pierre, discovered polonium and radium and birthed the idea of particle physics. Her notebooks, her clothing, her furniture, pretty much everything surviving from her Parisian suburban house, is radioactive, and will be for 1,500 years or more.
If you want to look at her manuscripts, you have to sign a liability waiver at France’s Bibliotheque Nationale, and then you can access the notes that are sealed in a lead-lined box. The Curies didn’t know about the dangers of radioactive materials, though they did know about radioactivity. Their research attempted to find out which substances were radioactive and why, and so many dangerous elements–thorium, uranium, plutonium–were just sitting there in their home laboratory, glowing at night, which Curie thought beautiful, “like faint, fairy lights,” she wrote in her autobiography. Marie Curie carried these glowing objects around in her pockets. She and her husband wore standard lab clothing, nothing more.