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Evening star. [volume] (Washington, D.C.) 1854-1972, October 13, 1929, Image 95

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Persistent link: https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83045462/1929-10-13/ed-1/seq-95/

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Mother of Radium Returns
i , •' •• • ... # - s , .
When Mme. Marie Curie This Month Pays Her Second Visit to America, Her Many
\Frlends and Admirers Here Will Present to Her Another Gram of the Precious Material
j She Discovered, to Be Used in the Fight Against Disease in Poland.
t NE of the great scientists of the present
I century will make her second visit to
■ i m America this month. Marie Curie
\\M comes to dedicate the new Hepburn
\ Laboratory of Ohetaiistry at St. Law
rence University, to attend a dinner given in
hoh> x of Thomas Alva Edison and to meet
the friends she made on her previous trip in
This previous trip was arranged by a group
of women who admired one who is perhaps
the greatest woman scientist of all time and
who not only wished to do her honor, but to
give her a long needed vacation from the
arduous labors of her research laboratory; for
the continuous handling of radium in large
quantities is dangerous and her health had
been seriously undermined not only by such
exposure to the radium rays, but by her long
devotion to her laboratory.
Her only vacations have been occasional visits
to her native country to see her relatives, a
few short trips which she made to give lectures
on the discovery of radium, and the traveling
which she did during the development of radio
logical services during the war. In this she
glayed a most important part, for she created
out of nothing a group of portable radiological
laboratories which traveled to the spot where
they were most needed for the diagnosis of
bone injuries or the location of bullets or shell
particles which needed extraction.
JJKFORE her first trip to America it had been
found, strange as it may seem, that the
woman who had not only discovered radium,
but had by the most extraordinary industry
and concentration added very greatly to our
knowledge of the nature of that substance, was
not in the possession of sufficient quantity to
carry on her further investigations. Her ad
mirers therefore had collected a sufficient
amount of money to purchase a gram of thi3
precious substance made from camotite ores
of Colorado, and the presentation of this radium
.was made a pageant of great beauty. The cere
mony was held in the White House at Washing
ton in the presence of a notable body of cabinet
ministers, diplomats, judges, high officers of the
Army and Navy, representatives of women’s
clubs and societies, prominent citizens of Wash
ington and other cities, scientists from the whole
country, all friends and admirers of this re
markable woman.
The French Ambassador, M. Jusserand, made
a short introductory talk and President Hard
ing presented the radium in an admirable
speech, to which Mme. Curie replied in a few
The radium itself Was not brought to the
ceremony, but a heavy lead case, weighing more
than 50 pounds, in which the radium was to
be stored, was on a stand before the President.
He presented Mme. Curie with the key to the
bpx in which the radium —at that time in safe
storage in the vaults of the Bureau of Stand
ards—was afterward transported to France. The
weight of this box was a sufficient guaranty
that no passing pilferer would attempt to
steal it.
i With the true scientific spirit Mme. Curie
refused to accept the radium as a personal gift,
but insisted that the deed should be so made
that the radium would become the property of
the laboratory named in honor of her husband
—the Curie Laboratory—and the surplus money,
for the momentum of the subscription had car
ried .the fund quite a distance beyond the
amount necessary to pay for the radium, was
trusted and the Income offered to Mme. Curie
to conduct further work.
• Now she has come again, and her friends have
subscribed $50,000 to give her what she most
desires—another gram of radium to be used in
the service of humanity in her own country, Po
land, which at present has no radium. By her
efforts and the generosity of the French gov
ernment and private individuals, the Paris Insti
tute of Radium, in which she is interested, has
a sufficient supply for its purposes. The major
quantity is in the laboratory of biology, pre
sided over by Prof. Claude Regaud. The rela
tively small quantity which is used for investi
gation purposes is in Mme. Curie’s own institute,
that of physics.
' To these two Institutes must go all those who
are interested either in the scientific investiga
tion of the nature of radium and the rays
which it gives off, or in the application of these
rays to relieve human suffering from cancer.
For while Mme. Curie’s institute is obviously the
most famous, the Biological Institute is gradual
ly being recognized as the center of the highest
type of investigation on the application of
radium and X-ray to the treatment of cancer.
Prof. Regaud has gathered about him a group
of physicists and scientists who devote their
time to the free treatment of those afflicted
with this disease, and those who are the most
. Jw'-.i > ; V }k\ .''
* 1 * f|£* * t[ ’ *
BMhlryalMlM ?**'. ' ,
| I • .V| ni4. ........ ~ ... . T1
When Mme. Curie visited Washington during President Hardings administra
tion. Photograph taken at the White House.
By Dr. Francis Carter Wood,
Professor ami Director of Cancdr Research at Columbia University.
competent to judge think that in no place in
the world is advance along these lines being
more thoroughly and rapidly made than In
this laboratory, only a few steps from the place
where Mme. Curie herself and her daughter,
Irene, labor to complete the work which she
began in 1898 with the discovery of radium.
pEW people know the details of the dramatic
discovery which Mme. Curie and her hus
band made. Like so many other discoveries
in science, it was not wholly independent, for
it was preceded by the discovery by Roentgen
of the X-rays in 1895. He showed that these
rays, coming from a tube through which an
electric current was running, could pass through
opaque substances and blacken a photographic
plate. The glass of the tube was a brilliant
green when the current was on, resembling the
fluorescence which is seen when ordinary siuv
light strikes uranium glass.
Prof. Henri Beequerel thought that perhaps
rays similar ,to X-rays might be emitted from '
fluorescent uranium. By accident he selected
some crystals of a uranium compound which
he had prepared some 15 years before. If he
had used a fresh preparation, radium might
not have been discovered. He plaoed these
crystals upon a photographic plate inclosed tm
black paper and promptly found that the plate
was blackened after development. Prof. Bec
querel then discovered that this blackening was
not due to the fluorescence of the uranium salt,
for it was obtained when that salt had not been
exposed to light for several months. It must,
therefore, be due to some rays coming from the
Uranium itself said he.
Mme. Curie's profound knowledge of chem
istry was known to Prof. Becquerel, and he
asked her to take up the question and find out
why the uranium gave off a kind of light which
would pass through black paper. It was shortly
found that the uranium had also the capacity
to discharge electricity from bodies near it. It
happened that Mme. Curie's husband had been
interested in devising a very sensitive instru
ment for detecting .such minute electrical cur
rents as pass through air influenced by uranium,
_ so he joined with his wife in testing the radio
activity of a large number of substances.
Certain minerals were found to be highly
radioactive, blit only . those containing uranium
or_ thorium. -Mme. Curie then suggested the
Hypothesis that there must be in these ores
some substance which was much more radio
active than either uranium or thorium Itself.
This meant, of course, separating chemically
these new substances from uranium ores. The
separation was based entirely on the tested ra
. * . • kit
dioactivity of each substance separated. The
ore contained a large number of elements, each
one of which had<to be collected by the most
careful chemical analysis and tested. The new
radioactive substance did not amount to a mil
lionth of 1 per cent of the original ore. Never
theless, polonium, named after Mme. Curie’s
native country, was discovered in July. 1898,
and radium in December of the same year.
In order to obtain more than a few specks
of either of these substances it was necessary
to work with large quantities of ore, and Mme.
Curie gave her entire time to isolating more
radium and polonium in order that they might
determine the nature of these substances. This
work had to be carried out in an abandoned
storeroom, which was merely a wooden shed
with an asphalt floor, a roof which did not
keep out the rain and without any fittings.
The only objects which this magnificent lab
oratory contained were some old pine tables,
a cast iron stove and a blackboard. There was
no ventilator to carry off the poisonous gases
given off in the chemical analysis, so that in
good weather they worked outside of the build
ing in a courtyard, and when the weather was
unfavorable they worked inside, with the win
dows left open. This in a Paris Winter. In her
published account of the life of her husband
she says
“We were at this time entirely absorbed in
the new field that opened before us, thanks to
the discovery so little expected. And we were
very happy, in spite of the difficult conditions
under which we worked. We passed our days
at the laboratory, often eating a simple stu
dent’s lunch there. A great tranquillity reigned
in our poor, shabby hangar; occasionally, while
observing an operation we would walk up and
down, talking of our work, present and future.
When we were cold a cup of hot tea, drunk
beside the stove, cheered us. We lived in a
preoccupation as complete as that of a dream.
“Sometimes we returned in the evening after
dinner for another survey of our domain. OUT
precious products, for which we had no shelter,
were arranged on tables and boards; from all
sides we could see their slightly luminous sil
houettes, and these gleamings, which seemed
suspended in the darkness, stirred us with ever
new emotion and enchantment.”
s° wretched were the conditions under which
these two devoted persons worked that they
even had to pay out of their own meager in
comes for some of the chemicals which they
used, and their combined incomes were at that
time about one-fifth of what an able-bodied
bricklayer could make in the city of New York—
nob in 1929, but in 1900.
The effect of the discovery on these two was
a crushing blow. Pierre Curie, a scientist of
extraordinary ability, who, with his brother, had
discovered a whole new field in the electrical ef
fects of pressure and heat on crystals, was over
whelmed with demands for speeches, public
lectures, portraits, autographs—the thousand
things which an unthinking and selfish public
inflict upon some one who has achieved a
great discovery. He complained, humorously
but sadly, that he had to write so many letters
that he could not find time for his work. He
refused all honors and begged only that he be
given space enough and supplies enough to
carry on the thousand things which remained
to be done; and, in spite of the French appre
ciation of Intellectual achievement, these two
persons, who have given more fame to France
than almost any one else except Pasteur, con
tinued to work in poverty and great physical
discomfort owing to the lack of ordinary labo
ratory conveniences.
When I took Mme. Curie into the great
physics laboratory of Columbia University and'
showed her some of the experimental equip
ment with which that great institute is pro
vided her astonishment was such that she
could scarcely speak. In a single room the
students and investigators in that Institution
had more apparatus than she had ever pos
sessed in her entire lifetime, or, as a matter of
fact, would ever possess, though she now holds
her husband's position of professor in the
They were told that they should patent their
processes for extracting radium and that they
. would thus become rich, but they both felt
that their work was entirely for humanity and
that any patenting of these processes would
inevitably result in high prices, and that if
any practical value resided in their discovery
it should be turned over to the people who
needed it. ...
It is a shabby story and yet a wonderful
one, because, as the work went on, they were
aided by brilliant chemists and physicists work
ing in other departments of the university,
who helped them for the pure love of discovery
and who, without claiming any reward or even
■ without desire to share in the glory at the new '
l • . i • it • i »;J • ,
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