Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Geek Weekend (Paris Edition), Day 1: The Curie Museum

So, it was off to Paris for the weekend via Eurotunnel and I managed to fit in four places from The Geek Atlas in four days. I was staying in a hotel in the Latin Quarter which is a stone's throw from... The Curie Museum.

Here's Marie Curie's laboratory:

The museum covers the lives and works of two Nobel Prize-winning couples: Pierre and Marie Curie (they discovered Radium and Polonium) and their daughter Irene and her husband Frederic Joliot (they discovered artificial radioactivity: you could make a substance radioactive by bombarding it with alpha particles).

Their Nobel Prizes are on display as is the equipment that they used (including the apparatus for measuring radiation by measuring ionization of air---which itself had been discovered by Becquerel).

Here are the Nobel Prizes:

Although I love the science section of the museum (including the laboratory where they worked with a piece of paper from one of their notebooks with its radioactive thumb print---they weren't too careful about handling radioactive elements), the best bit is the section on the craze for radium products in the 1920s and 1930s.

Here's an ad for a beauty cream that contains radium and thorium. Gives you that special glow!

Here you'll find make up that contains thorium and radium, special radium wool to keep babies warm, a radium dispenser so you could have a radioactive soak in the bath and more...

Seems stupid now, but back then the dangers were either ignored or unknown, and radioactivity seemed like a wondrous thing (especially since it was discovered early on that it would kill or reduce tumors). I wonder what products we are feeding ourselves that in 70 years we'll consider down right dangerous.

There's a nice web site of radioactive quack cures which make my skin crawl. Yes, I'm going to take a radioactive suppository to boost my sex life tonight! Move over Viagra, here's Vita Radium.


If you enjoyed this blog post, you might enjoy my travel book for people interested in science and technology: The Geek Atlas. Signed copies of The Geek Atlas are available.


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