Radium Essay

Radium Term paper

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Radium is a silver-white, highly radioactive element. It s atomic number is 88, and it is the heaviest alkali earth metal, having a mass number of 226.025 (See Figure 1). Radium has at least twenty six isotopes, and all are radioactive (Shriver 1995). Since radium is chemically similar to calcium and magnesium, it is absorbed by the bones of animals. Once in the bones, it emits alpha, beta, and gamma rays (Shriver 1993). These rays shrink or destroy tissues and they are the reason radium is so harmful among humans (Raloff 1994) Radium was discovered by Marie Curie, and has been used in many medicines and medical procedures (Shriver 1995). Some of those medicines and procedures are "Radithor" by Bailey, Nasopharyngeal Radium Irradiation, and cancer treatment. Almost all uses for radium are presently obsolete. Discovery of Radium Marya Sklodowska was born on November 7, 1867 in a small boarding school for girls in Warsaw. Marya grew up to marry a Pierre Curie on July 26, 1893 when she was 27, causing her name to change to Marie Curie (See Figure 2) (Birch 1988). Marie Curie became the world s most famous woman scientist because she remains the only woman to ever receive two Nobel Peace prizes. She won her first award with her husband Pierre, and her friend Henri Becueral by discovering two new elements, polonium and radium. Her second came with her extended research of the two (Koerner 1995). To understand how the discovery of radium came about, the discovery of radioactivity must first be analyzed. The person responsible for the discovery of Walstead 2 radioactivity is Henri Becquerel. He performed many experiments with newly discovered x-rays. He found that by exposing graphic film to any type of light including x-rays, the film darkens. He first used visible light to find that the more intense the light is, the darker the film becomes. Becquerel discovered that when graphic film is placed on one side of a human body, and an x-ray machine on the other, the result is an imprint of the human s body on the graphic film. The imprint contains the complete outline of the person s bone structure because x-rays do not pass through bone, thus causing the fleshy parts of the human to allow more rays to go through and darken the film (Birch 1988). Barcqueral wanted to know if any elements gave off rays naturally. So, since light darkens the film, Becquerel wrapped it in several layers of black paper to keep the light out, but at the same time let x-rays in. When placed in a dark cavity, such as a drawer, where sunlight could not act upon the element, the only element to darken the film through the black paper was uranium. Thus, uranium was giving off some kind of ray all by itself. Through more experiments, he found that this unknown ray was not an x-ray, but something far stronger (Birch 1988). After hearing of these mysterious "uranium rays", Marie Curie decided to begin her own experimentation. She found that another element, thorium, also gave off those same rays. She then could not call the mysterious rays "uranium rays" any longer. A more general word, "radioactivity", was put into use (Curie 1937). Marie concluded that only compounds containing thorium or uranium were radioactive, and spend her time dealing with only those two elements. While testing the radioactivity of samples containing uranium and thorium, Curie found that the radiation Walstead 3 levels by far exceeded the amount of radioactivity possible. An example of this is a mineral called pitchblende. Pitchblende contained four times the amount of radiation than did chemicals that contained the same amount of uranium (Birch 1988). Curie performed the experiment time and time again, but her results remained constant. There was a minute amount of something in the pitchblende that was far more radioactive than uranium or thorium (Curie 1937). Since Curie had already tested every other known element, she was on the trail to discovering a new element. Her husband Pierre, watching her through her experiments on radiation, became so interested, that he too helped her with her experiments (Birch 1988). To find this new element, the Curies used pitchblende, and separated all known substances from it. They were able to find not one, but two new elements, and by July of 1898, the discovery of one new element was confirmed ;polonium, named after their home country, Poland. After more experimentation, there were certain of the second, and they named it radium (Curie 1937). They deduced that radium existed in pitchblende in very small amounts. To prove that they had found a new element, they would have to break down enough pitchblende to produce a valid amount of the element (Birch 1988). They ordered tons of pitchblende from companies and went through an ever-tiring process in which to obtain pure radium. They first sifted the pitchblende to remove rubbish. Next they ground it and boiled it with soda so that it separated into a liquid and a precipitate. After discarding the liquid and adding different acids, the Curies were able to eliminate unwanted substances (Curie 1937). Finally, through sifting, mixing, draining, Walstead 4 heating, dissolving, and so on, the Curies were left with pure radium. The major limitation was that sackfulls and sackfulls of pitchblende resulted in only grains of radium (Birch 1988). After four years from 1899 to 1902, the Curies could prove their statement that radium existed. Marie was able to put forth a tenth of a gram of pure radium (Birch 1988). Radium actually did exist. After the discovery of radium, scientists everywhere were using the new element to find out as much as they could about radioactivity. Pierre himself actually found that objects placed near something radioactive would actually turn radioactive themselves. This occurrence is known as induced radioactivity (Birch 1988). Many discoveries such as that were found in the following decades. Many uses, some valid and some hoaxes, were immediately instituted for radium. The most famous use of radium was during the early twentieth century by a man known as William J. A. Bailey (Macklis 1993). He was the most crucial player in the "era of mild radium therapy". The Era of Mild Radium Therapy Marie Curie s mild radium therapy is a theory that states that if taken, minute quantities of radium will maintain perfect health. This directly branches from medical theories of the 19th century which stated that "tiny quantities of naturally occurring materials" (Macklis 1993), with exercise, sleep, and sunlight, cures most illnesses. One of the most crucial men to make advancements in mild radium therapy was an American, William J. A. Bailey. Bailey was a "college dropout who gave himself the title of doctor." Walstead 5 (Macklis 1993). He followed the theory of mild radium therapy in the production of numerous radium laced medicines. Yet, for the most part, mild radium therapy and other theories for good health were confined to Europe. But in 1921, Marie Curie went on her American tour (Macklis 1993). This tour sparked the flame that would burn in the minds and hearts
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