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100 Years Ago: Madame Curie's Research

Innovation and discovery as chronicled in past issues of Scientific American



SCIENTIFIC AMERICAN, VOL. II, NO. 11; MARCH 12, 1910

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MARCH 1960
MODERN AGRICULTURE— “The 20th-century Israelites came to a land of encroaching sand dunes along a once-verdant coast, of malarial swamps and naked limestone hills from which an estimated three feet of topsoil have been scoured, sorted and spread as sterile overwash upon the plains or swept out to sea in flood waters. The land of Israel had shared the fate of land throughout the Middle East. A decline in productivity and in population had set in with the fading of the Byzantine Empire some 1,300 years ago. Today most of the people of the world live in the lands where mankind has lived longest in organized societies. There, with few exceptions, the soil is in the worst condition. The example of Israel shows that the land can be reclaimed and that increase in the food supply can overtake the increase that will double the 2,800 million world population before the end of this century.”

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MARCH 1910
CURIE, DEBIERNE— “According to the theory of radio-active transformations, the quantity of polonium present in radio-active minerals must be very small. According to this theory, polonium is looked upon as a descendant of radium, and the relative proportion of these substances in radio-active equilibriums is equal to the ratio of their mean lives. The mean life of radium being about 5,300 times greater than that of polonium, and radium being found in pitchblende in about the proportion of 0.2 gramme per ton, it is seen that the same mineral cannot contain more than about 0.04 milligramme of polonium per ton. We have undertaken recently a chemical research with a view of preparing polonium in a concentrated state. This was performed on several tons of residues from the uranium mineral which were at our disposal for this purpose.
—Mdme. P. Curie and A. Debierne”

MEDICAL MONITOR— “It is of the highest importance that the physician be kept informed of the variable temperature of the blood. According to present practice, temperature readings are taken at regular intervals, say, three or four times a day, by a sensitive thermometer. This practice obviously gives no information as to those oscillations in temperature which may have occurred in the meantime, and which, in some cases, it would be desirable to know. A firm of Berlin constructors have recently perfected an apparatus allowing this important factor to be recorded continually and automatically.”

MARCH 1860
BURNING GLASS— “Important to cotton shippers: beware of bulls’ eyes! It has been observed (says the New York Tribune) that the fires which have occurred so frequently in vessels laden with cotton, have been confined principally to American ships, in which the convex side-lights called bulls’ eyes, are a peculiarity. Foreign vessels rarely use these for lights, and not a single fire has occurred in them at our cotton ports. The theory is that the bull’s eye acts as a burning lens, whenever the sun chances to shine through it, and will ignite any combustible article lying in its focus.”

GET VACCINATED— “‘Gas [for interior illumination], it is supposed, is a powerful disinfectant, and hence there is no contagion within the circle of its influence.’ We copy the above sentence for the purpose of disputing the inference that gas will protect people from the small-pox. Small-pox is doubtless uncommon among that class of people who burn gas for light in our cities, because they generally have sufficient intelligence and forethought to attend to the vaccination of their families, and its ravages are almost wholly confined to that improvident class who make no provision against the small-pox, or anything else in the future, and who live by the light of burning fluid.”

This article was originally published with the title "Soil Progress Madame Curie Provident Vaccination."

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