It's undeniable that Marie Curie made a lasting impression on the world. More than 100 years ago, the scientific icon and double Nobel Prize winner discovered polonium and radium, promoted the use of radiation in medicine, and changed the world’s understanding of radioactivity.
But Curie and her husband Pierre didn’t take any precautions, not knowing the deadly effects of these elements, and both scientists died from their long-time exposure. Curie would even carry bottles of polonium and radium in the pocket of her coat and store them in her desk drawer.
Today, their scientific papers – along with some of their other personal items –are stored in lead-lined boxes. These belongings are still dangerously radioactive and can only be viewed with special equipment. In fact, Marie Curie is even buried in a casket made of lead to contain the radiation.
Curious about Curie?
- Curie is buried in a casket made of lead to contain the radiation. According to the British Society for the History of Radiology, no one knew her coffin was made of lead until her body was exhumed in 1995.
- Anyone wanting to examine Madame Curie’s papers more closely should be aware that the most common isotope of radium, called radium-226, has a half-life of 1,601 years.
- Radioactive materials are better understood these days. They’re used in medicine and nuclear power, of course, and are even used to sterilize fruits and vegetables, to test welded materials, and to calculate the age of organic materials.