What Lasting Impact Did Marie Curie Have on Paris?

Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, made a name for themselves in the 1920s and 1930s when their research led to the discovery of polonium and radium. Their experiments with radioactivity at their laboratory in Arcueil, south of Paris, led to the use of radiation to treat cancer patients. But, boy, did their work create a major mess. Today, Marie Curie's abandoned lab, located in a working-class Parisian suburb, is barricaded behind a concrete wall topped with barbed wire, surveillance cameras, and radiation monitors. The radioactivity of the site, which has undergone a number of cleanup efforts, has led some to refer to the site as "Chernobyl on the Seine."

Half-life of a scientific pioneer:

  • Curie won two Nobel Prizes: one in physics and one in chemistry. Initially, the discovery of radium led to a dangerous craze in the 1920s in which radium-laced products were sold to treat ailments ranging from hair loss to impotence.

  • Known as the “mother of modern physics,” Curie died in 1934 from aplastic anemia, a condition linked to high levels of radiation. She was 66. Curie's personal effects -- clothing, furniture, cookbooks, and notebooks -- are still dangerously radioactive.

  • Nuclear power supplies about three-quarters of France’s electricity needs, compared to only 20 percent in the United States. There is still no safe solution for disposing of the nuclear waste stored at France’s 906 nuclear waste sites.

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