Marie Curie's Papers Still Radioactive

Even after more than one hundred years, Marie Curie's scientific papers - and even her cookbooks - are still radioactive and are kept in lead-lined boxes.

If you'd like to examine her papers at the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at France's Bibliotheque National, you're welcome to do so, but only after you sign a waiver of liability and don protective clothing.


(Marie Curie at her desk, with papers)

Along with her husband and collaborator, Pierre, Marie Curie lived her life awash in ionizing radiation. She would carry bottles of the polonium and radium in the pocket of her coat and store them in her desk drawer. In his 2008 book "The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914" historian Philipp Blom quotes Marie Curie's autobiographical notes, in which she describes the mysterious blue-green lights in her lab:

"One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."

I was surprised to recall that, even as late as 1956, Robert Heinlein (who certainly understood the dangers of radioactive materials) suggested that personal checks could use a (presumably very low level) of radiation as a way of coding:

One real improvement I had not appreciated up to then was the universal checkbook system; with a single cybernet as clearinghouse for the whole city and radioactive coding on my checkbook, I got cash laid in my palm as quickly there as I could have gotten it at my home bank across from Hired Girl, Inc.
(radioactive coding for checks from The Door Into Summer [1956])

From Christian Science Monitor.

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