A Legacy of Dark and Light

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Marie Curie’s death was brutal. She had long faced the ravages of extended radiation exposure: fevers, cataracts, respiratory distress, running sores on her hands. Aplastic pernicious anemia finished the job. She died on July 4, 1934, at the age of sixty-seven. … What would Madame Curie have thought of the long-term ramifications of her discoveries? The manifold medical and industrial uses of radioactive materials would have staggered her, in the best way. The atomic scientist Alan E. Waltar’s Radiation and Modern Life: Fulfilling Marie Curie’s Dream (2004) gives an idea of the vast scope of the technology, which is used in increasing crop production, controlling insect pests, sterilizing medical equipment, developing new drugs, medical diagnosis, cancer treatment, nuclear power, purifying cosmetics, testing soil at construction sites with radiation gauges, measuring automotive engine wear, inspecting aircraft welds through radiography, determining rail stresses, radioisotope thermoelectric generators for spacecraft, luminescent exit signs in public buildings, DNA forensics, carbon dating, enhancing the beauty of precious gems, authenticating rare paintings, and on and on.

more from Algis Valiunas at The New Atlantis here.

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