Radium has Disappeared from Biology Labs and faded from our cultural imagination, but it is difficult to overstate the extraordinary impact of this element in the early 20th century. Radium is hugely radioactive, generates large amounts of heat, and is spontaneously luminous in certain compounds—attributes that captivated scientists and the wider public when the element was first discovered. When Marie and Pierre Curie succeeded in isolating a pure sample of radium in 1902, they noted another of its more striking properties: a tendency to infect other objects around it, rendering those objects radioactive as well. This transformative power provides an apt metaphor for tracing the historical impact of radium as it moved through and altered multiple areas of science and medicine.
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