Monday, 13 March 2017

The notebook of Marie Curie that, even today, can kill you

There are books that are dangerous. And when I say dangerous I do not think about their ideas, their proclamations or their misspellings. I say 'dangerous' literally. Books that can cause illness, do harm or even kill your readers.

These books exist and some of them are kept in places as little given to the mystery as the National Library of France. In their cellars are stored a bunch of lead boxes that hold papers, notebooks and even cookbooks. Boxes that make up the collection of Pierre and Marie Curie and that after all these years remain dangerously radioactive.

Very radioactive, in fact. So much so that researchers who want to access these documents should not only manipulate them in protective clothing, but also have to sign a disclaimer.

A life given to science. Literally
Marie Curie needs no introduction. His works made fundamental contributions to twentieth-century science and was the first person to win two Nobel Prizes. Yes, he did it with great sacrifices and much suffering.

The notebook of Marie Curie that, even today, can kill you

Curie died of aplastic anemia. It is a rare disease linked, in this case, to radiation. The continued exposure eventually destroyed the cell lines of her bone marrow and that lack of erythrocytes (red blood cells) eventually took her to the grave.

Lead Boxes
So much radiation contained his body that, in order to be buried in the Pantheon of Paris (where France buries its illustrious figures) and according to the chronicles of the time, had to be made a coffin with walls of lead.

The Curie lived all their lives surrounded by radiation. In his memoirs, Curie recounted how his laboratory was illuminated by the night of dim blue and green lights. The laboratory where they discovered the radio, on the outskirts of Paris, was used until 1978. Then it was abandoned.

In the 1980s, Le Parisien began publishing about the high number of cancers in the neighborhood. The response was not quick, it was necessary to wait until 1991 for the authorities to clean the building and remove the instruments, books and notebooks to destroy them (or store them in safe places).

So it is not surprising that the working papers of the Curies and their assistants were radioactive. It is a curious thing. Old books, relics of the past, are often carefully kept to prevent users from damaging them. In this case it is the opposite, the books are kept to protect the readers.

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