ADVERTISEMENT
See Inside January 2011

Recommended: Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout

Books and recommendations from Scientific American



From Radioactive, by Lauren Redniss

Radioactive: Marie & Pierre Curie, a Tale of Love and Fallout
by Lauren Redniss. HarperCollins, 2010

The story of Marie and Pierre Curie and their Nobel Prize–winning research on radiation has been oft told. But it finds new life in the hands of writer and artist Lauren Redniss, who weaves together deft narrative and vivid illustrations to create a thoroughly modern account of the scien­tif­ic and romantic pas­sions of the Curies, as well as the repercussions of their discoveries. Here Redniss describes how, following Marie’s observation of ra­dio­act­iv­ity in a mineral called pitchblende, the Curies isolated for the first time a compound containing radium, a radioactive element.

“The Curies had demonstrated the existence of polonium and radium through their radioactivity, but fellow scientists remained skeptical.... Chemists in particular wanted to see them, to touch them.Only concrete evidence would be persuasive.

“And so, the Curies plunged into a Sisyphean task. Procuring seven tons of pitch­blende—­a mountain of black rubble strewn with pine needles—from the Bohemian mines, they began trying to extract measurable amounts of their new elements. They asked the Sorbonne for laboratory space to complete the work. The University gave the Curies a dilapidated wooden shed previously used for human dissection....

“After four years of steady labor, four hundred tons of water, and forty tons of corrosive chemicals, on March 28, 1902, they managed to extract one tenth of a gram of radium chloride....

“Marie: ‘It was exhausting work....’

“With the constant companionship that accompanied their research, the Curies’ love deepened. They cosigned their published findings. Their handwritings intermingle in their notebooks. On the cover of one black canvas laboratory log, the initials ‘M’ and ‘P’ before the surname ­Curie are scripted directly one atop the other, as if to pull apart even just the letters of their names would be too brutal. Though the long, poisonous task of separating the elements would ultimately cleave the couple, for now the arduous work bound them together.”

BOOKS
The Tell-Tale Brain: A Neuroscientist’s Quest for What Makes Us Human
by V. S. Ramachandran. W. W. Norton, 2011

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
by Mike Brown. Spiegel & Grau, 2010

The Evolutionary World: How Adaptation Explains Everything from Seashells to Civilization
by Geerat J. Vermeij. St. Martin’s Press, 2010

Dog, Inc.: The Uncanny Inside Story of Cloning Man’s Best Friend
by John Woestendiek. Avery Books, 2010

How Old Is the Universe?
by David A. Weintraub. Princeton University Press, 2011

Stolen World: A Tale of Reptiles, Smugglers, and Skulduggery
by Jennie Erin Smith. Crown, 2011

The Planet in a Pebble: A Journey into Earth’s Deep History
by Jan Zalasiewicz. Oxford University Press, 2010

Here Is a Human Being: At the Dawn of Personal Genomics
by Misha Angrist. HarperCollins, 2010

Dance of the Photons: From Einstein to Quantum Teleportation
by Anton Zeilinger. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2010

Written in Stone: Evolution, the Fossil Record, and Our Place in Nature
by Brian Switek. Bellevue Literary Press, 2010

TELEVISION
Making Stuff: Stronger, Smaller, Smarter, Cleaner.
Four-hour NOVA series premieres January 19 at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Scientific American Back To School

Back to School Sale!

12 Digital Issues + 4 Years of Archive Access just $19.99

Order Now >

X

Email this Article

X