The Discovery of Radium header
The Discovery of Radium header
The Discovery of Radium header
From Poland to ParisLooking for a Laboratory, Finding LoveThe Discovery of RadiumHonors, Disasters, & RenewalRadium Campaigns

The Mystery of the Rays

Two mysterious discoveries led Marie Curie to her life’s work. In December 1895, a German physicist, Wilhelm Roentgen, had discovered rays that could travel through solid wood or flesh. A few months later a French physicist, Henri Becquerel, discovered that minerals containing uranium also gave off rays. Roentgen’s X-rays amazed scientists, who took to studying them with great energy. They mostly ignored Becquerel’s rays, which seemed much the same, only weaker. Marie decided to investigate the uranium rays. There was so little work on them for her to read about that she could begin experiments at once.

Read more about the mystery of the rays here. Look image

One of Roentgen's first X-ray photographis -- a colleagues hand (note the wedding ring).
(Move mouse over photos to read captions)

First Marie needed a lab. She had to settle for a storeroom in the Paris Municipal School, where her husband, Pierre Curie, was now a professor. The storeroom was crowded and damp, but somehow she had to overcome its problems. She started off by studying a variety of chemical compounds that contained uranium. She discovered that the strength of the rays that came out depended only on the amount of uranium in the compound. It had nothing to do with whether the material was solid or powdered, dry or wet, pure or combined with other chemical elements. If you had a certain amount of uranium—a certain number of uranium atoms—then you got a certain intensity of radiation. Nothing else made a difference.

Read more about how Marie attacked the mystery here. look image

The Discovery of Radium footer
The Discovery of Radium footerThe Discovery of Radium footer