"The Discovery of Radium
" by Marie Skłodowska Curie
On 14 May, 1921, Marie Curie delivered "the only extended address which she made" on her visit that year to the United States. The Discovery of Radium is that address, descibing to those assembled at Vassar College of her Nobel Prize winning discovery of the chemical element radium despite the twin challenges of of tremendous difficulties and limited resources.
I could tell you many things about radium and radioactivity and it would take a long time. But as we can not do that, I shall only give you a short account of my early work about radium. Radium is no more a baby, it is more than twenty years old, but the conditions of the discovery were somewhat peculiar, and so it is always of interest to remember them and to explain them.
We must go back to the year 1897. Professor Curie and I worked at that time in the laboratory of the school of Physics and Chemistry where Professor Curie held his lectures. I was engaged in some work on uranium rays which had been discovered two years before by Professor Becquerel. I shall tell you how these uranium rays may be detected. If you take a photographic plate and wrap it in black paper and then on this plate, protected from ordinary light, put some uranium salt and leave it a day, and the next day the plate is developed, you notice on the plate a black spot at the place where the uranium salt was. This spot has been made by special rays which are given out by the uranium and are able to make an impression on the plate in the same way as ordinary light.
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