The Mystery of the Rays
wo mysterious discoveries led Marie Curie to her lifes 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. Roentgens X-rays amazed scientists, who took to studying them with great energy. They mostly ignored Becquerels 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.
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
If you had a certain amount of uraniuma certain number of uranium
you got a certain intensity of radiation. Nothing else made a difference.