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Wednesday, 21 June 2017


Radium is a chemical element with the atomic number 88 and symbol Ra on the periodic table.
It is found in pitchblende in small quantities and in other uranium ores.

Radium is an almost pure-white alkaline earth metal, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (rather than oxygen) on exposure to air, forming a black surface layer of radium nitride (Ra3N2).

Radium under light

All isotopes of radium are radioactive, and it glows faint blue because of this.

Radium was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in the form of radium chloride in 1898. They extracted the radium compound from uraninite and published the discovery at the French Academy of Sciences five days later.

"My beautiful radium", Marie Curie called the element she discovered in 1898. She was in thrall to it: it stirred her, she wrote, with "ever-new emotion and enchantment."

Marie and Pierre Curie experimenting with radium, a drawing by André Castaigne

Radium was isolated in its metallic state by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of radium chloride in 1911.

As Curie shared her discovery with scientists, and radium was found to be capable of destroying human tissue, it was enlisted in the battle against cancer.

By the 1910s, radium—now known to be radioactive and carcinogenic—was being sold as a health tonic for fever, gout and constipation. Some claimed it could restore vitality in the elderly. Others took to drinking radium water, or visiting radium clinics and spas.

Hotel postcard advertising radium baths, c.1940s

Radithor was a health drink in the 1920s that contained radium and slowly killed its customers. But it didn't cause a public health crisis as it could only be afforded by the wealthy (unlike cheaper, safer knockoffs)

When radium-dial-painting ‘studios’ were set up in Newark, New Jersey, and Ottawa, Illinois in the 1910s, hordes of working-class girls, some as young as 14, applied for jobs painting luminous numerals on watch faces. The girls would then apply the same paint to their teeth, nails and skin to give a glowing appearance. Their remains are still highly radioactive and glow to this day due to the 1600 year half life of Radium.

A lawsuit was filed in the 1920s against the United States Radium Corporation by five "Radium Girl" dial painters who had painted radium-based luminous paint on the dials of watches and clocks. These five women suffered from serious health effects which included sores, anemia, and bone cancer because of the prolonged exposure they had to the element.

Radium watch hands under ultraviolet light

As a result of the lawsuit, the adverse effects of radioactivity became widely known, and radium-dial painters were instructed in proper safety precautions and provided with protective gear.

Marie Curie's premature death (at the age of 66) has been attributed to her extensive work with radium.

Radium E (bismuth-210) became the first radioactive element to be made synthetically on February 4, 1936. This happened when. Dr. John Jacob Livingood was bombarding several elements with 5-MeV deuterons at the radiation lab at  University of California, Berkeley. He noted that irradiated bismuth emits fast electrons with a 5-day half-life, which matched the behaviour of radium E.

Radium 223 is a mildly radioactive form of the metal radium. It used to be called Alpharadin and now has the brand name Xofigo (pronounced zoh-fee-go). Doctors use radium 223 to treat prostate cancers that have spread to the bones.

Source The Spectator

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