Marie Curie’s Lab Notes Are Still Radioactive . . . After 100 Years !?

Marie Curie with husband Pierre Curie

Key Highlights
While the library grants access to visitors to view Curie’s manuscripts, all guests are expected to sign a liability waiver and wear protective gear as the items are contaminated with radium 226, which has a half life of about 1,600 years, according to Christian Science Monitor.

Marie Curie, known as the ‘mother of modern physics’, died from aplastic anaemia, a rare condition linked to high levels of exposure to her famed discoveries, the radioactive elements polonium and radium.

Notable Achievements

Marie Curie discovered two new chemical elements – radium and polonium. She carried out the first research into the treatment of tumors with radiation, and she founded of the Curie Institutes, which are important medical research centers.

She is the only person who has ever won Nobel Prizes in both physics and chemistry.

Aftermath of the radioactive exposure

Marie Curie was diagnosed with cataracts in 1920. The first woman to be hired as a professor at the prestigious Sorbonne in Paris had to write her lecture notes in large letters and rely on her daughters to direct her around the campus. Today, we are aware that the lens of the eye can be harmed by radiation exposure. Unfortunately, Marie lived in a time when radiation risks were not taken seriously.

However, Marie was aware of the dangers posed by radiation. Lead screenings and blood tests were recommended by her for people who worked with radioactive materials. Marie tested the blood counts of her researchers in her own laboratory. She was of the firm belief that radioactive materials should only be handled by trained personnel. Marie’s efforts saved others from dangerous radiation exposure at the cost of her own health. She was diagnosed with aplastic anemia in 1934, which caused her body to stop making new blood cells.

Death and Burial

On July 4, 1934, at the age of sixty-six, Marie Curie passed away.

She was buried twice by France. The first time, it was in the same cemetery where her in-laws and husband Pierre were buried. Then, in 1995, Marie and Pierre were reinterred in France’s national mausoleum: the Pantheon Voltaire, Rousseau, Zola, and Hugo—some of France’s most notable men—were joined by the Curies. Marie joined them as the first woman.

Marie Curie’s Belongings Will Be Radioactive For Another 1,500 Years

But before visitors could pay their respects, she needed a lead-lined coffin.

Now, more than 80 years since her death, the body of Marie Curie is still radioactive. The Panthéon took precautions when interring the woman who coined radioactivity, discovered two radioactive elements, and brought X-rays to the frontlines of World War I.