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People in History

Working through Pitchblende to Separate Radium & Polonium

In the previous article we talked about the scientific breakthrough - discovery of polonium and radium. Marie and Pierre had still a long way to go to prove that they really discovered new elements. The amount of radium and polonium which they were able to extract were minute, they needed much more in order to establish their physical and chemical properties.

The ore from which they extracted polonium and radium came from the pitchblende deposits used to extract uranium salts for glass manufacture in St Joachimsthal mine in Bohemia. The price of pitchblende was high but the value of the residue left after extracting uranium salt was low since the ore was considered useless.  In that time St Joachimsthal was a part of Austrian empire. There were many  problems to deal with:  to arrange a permission to transfer massive amounts of ore from Austria to France, to pay for the ore and to for its transportation. Besides, Marie and Pierre did not even have a good quality laboratory at the Sorbonne University, only a small shack with no floor which was used for animal dissection in the past.

Marie and Pierre in the laboratory

Read more: Working through Pitchblende to Separate Radium & Polonium


Hundredth Anniversary of Marie Curie’s Chemistry Nobel Award

Marie CurieAt the end of summer 2011 when Marie Curie was participating the Solvay Conference in Brussels, she received a telegram from Nobel  Committee in Sweden.  She was awarded the second Nobel  Prize, this time in chemistry. She was recognized for producing a sufficient amount of two new elements, polonium and radium, for establishment their atomic weight and other unusual and radioactive properties.

Marie was not only the first Pole and the first woman to receive a Nobel award (the first one in 1903). She was also the first person who received two Nobel awards in two different areas of science.

Read more: Hundredth Anniversary of Marie Curie’s Chemistry Nobel Award


Discovery of Polonium and Radium

Marie was already young wife and mother, now it was a time to find a subject for doctorial thesis. She would become the first woman in Europe with PhD in Physics! Read the previous part: Maria and Pierre Curie: First Meeting, Love and Marriage .

electrometer-CuriesThe discovery of strange X-ray radiation by Rentgen, the radiation that showed bare bone in human hand became the most novel scientific curiosity. Henri Bequerel found that salts of uranium were also a source of this strange radiation. They made a mark on photographic paper without any access to the external light. So Marie naturally decided to follow up and investigate it. Pierre and Jacques Curie invented the electrometer (see the photo on the right) based on piezoelectric quartz that could detect very small amount of electricity. It was known that this strange radiation caused changes in the electric field, so Curies electrometer was a very suitable device to experiment with these strange and penetrating rays.

Read more: Discovery of Polonium and Radium


Maria and Pierre Curie: First Meeting, Love and Marriage

Read about Maria's studies in Paris

Pierre CurieMaria received a grant from the Society for the Encouragement of National Industry to study magnetic properties of various steels. She began her research in prof. Lippmann's laboratory. She was in a search for better and less cumbersome equipment for a limited space she had to deal with to conduct her experiments.

Luckily, Joseph Kowalski, Polish professor from Fribourg University, was visiting Paris with his wife. Maria knew them from the time when she was a governess in Szczuki. They met again in Paris, Maria confined her problems, he thought that Pierre Curie may find a help. The next day Maria met Pierre Curie; they immediately developed an attraction. Pierre could not believe that he met a woman who is on equal intellectual level than he is. He used to believe that "women of genius are rare". Pierre was also curious about Maria's foreign roots, her patriotism and culture. Maria listened to his advices and his expertise in crystallography, magnetism and piezoleelectricity with interest. During this first conversation Pierre asked Marie whether she would remain in France. She replied with persistence in her voice that of course she would go back to Poland since this is her duty for an occupied countryland.

Pierre Curie came from a very interesting family of Alsatian origin (boarder region between France and Germany). His father and grandfather were medical doctors by profession but liberal intellectuals and scientists by choice. Pierre and Jacques, his older brother, were very smart, very curious and contributed to several scientific breakthroughs. Pierre was home-schooled, since he was brilliant, but unable to learn in school surroundings. Pierre had sworn never to get married; he devoted his life to science completely.

Pierre Curie with his parents: Eugene and Sophieand brother Jacques - on the photograph above.

Read more: Maria and Pierre Curie: First Meeting, Love and Marriage


Kennedy Family Relationship with Poland

Young Jack Kennedy and Poland

Joseph KennedyWhen President Franklin D. Roosevelt chose Joseph P. Kennedy, Sr. to be U. S. Ambassador to Great Britain in 1938, it seemed like a strange choice. Kennedy, patriarch of what was to become an American political dynasty, was an Irish Catholic with anti-British sentiments.

The elder Kennedy was also an admirer of Germany, England's long time nemesis. The ambassador was a staunch supporter of appeasement toward Hitler and thought highly of the fascist Generalissimo Franco of Spain. He favored sacrificing the "disposable countries" of East Central Europe to Germany in exchange for world peace and preservation of economic stability. Even after Germany's invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, Kennedy continued to advocate for American peace feelers toward Hitler, something that FDR rejected out of hand.

Ambassador Kennedy's twenty-two year old son John, on leave from his studies at Harvard, was serving as his father's secretary in London during the summer of 1939 when the ambassador suggested he take a trip through Europe to see first hand the situation there, which was inexorably headed toward war.

Read more: Kennedy Family Relationship with Poland


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