eISSN: 2081-2841
ISSN: 1689-832X
Journal of Contemporary Brachytherapy
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vol. 11
Letter to the Editor

Maria Skłodowska-Curie – the first lady of nuclear physics

Tomasz Pospieszny

J Contemp Brachytherapy 2019; 11, 6: 505–509
Online publish date: 2019/12/23
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Radium was not to enrich anyone. Radium is an element. It belongs to all people

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

The history of nuclear chemistry and physics as well as brachytherapy began on February 1896 in Paris. After the discovery of X-rays in 1895 by the German physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen (1845-1923), the French physicist Antoine Henri Becquerel (1852-1908) fortuitously discovered that minerals of uranium spontaneously emitted rays very similar to X-rays. It was a milestone in the history of nuclear physics and chemistry as well as modern medicine [1]. However, the development of brachytherapy is directly related to the genius and systematic work of Maria Skłodowska-Curie (1867-1934) and her husband Pierre Curie (1859-1906) [2]. Subsequently, when Irène (1897-1956) and Frédéric Joliot-Curie (1900-1958) discovered artificial radioactivity in 1934, they opened a new path to brachytherapy [3,4].

On December 28th 1895, Röntgen (Photo 1) published the results of the research in Ueber eine neue Art von Strahlen (On a new type of ray) [5]. It was the beginning of a scientific revolution. Very quickly the whole world of science learned about the unusual discovery of a German. This discovery was so important that Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen became the first Nobel Prize winner in physics in 1901. The justification states that he received the prize “in recognition of the extraordinary services he has rendered by the discovery of the remarkable rays subsequently named after him”.

In January 1896 at the session of the Academy of Sciences in Paris, Henri Poincaré (1854-1912) suggested that X-rays may be similar to fluorescence. Fascinated by this information, Becquerel (Photo 2) began a series of studies on uranium salts. He exposed them to sunlight and then he applied salts to photographic plates that became black. At the end of February 1896, it was cloudy and rainy in Paris. Becquerel could not expose the uranium salts in solar radiation. He placed a photographic plate and unexposed salt in a drawer. After a few days he decided to develop a photographic plate. To his surprise, it was blackened. Uranium salts emit radiation without solar radiation. Becquerel identified natural radioactivity in his photographic plate in contact with uranium crystals. He himself published seven papers on radioactivity in 1896, and two in 1897 and none the year after. After the discovery of polonium and radium in 1898 by the...

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