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I've been reading about the work of Marie Curie recently after a friend filled me in on what she did (never having had much of an idea previously) and it's all very interesting.

What I can't understand however is what real impact her discovery of radium had for the development of physics in general? I mean in the textbooks and websites I've been browsing, Curie is made out to be some sort of physics pioneer - but I can't see where her discoveries specifically moved the study of physics forward (don't get me wrong, I'm sure she was extremely influential, I'm just trying to understand why).

How did the discovery of radium/radioactivity impact the study of physics? What impact did Marie Curie have in actually moving towards modern physics? I can only seem to find a variety of claims that she did impact physics, rather than how specifically - it all seems a bit odd.

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Thanks for the responses, but I would love to hear some thoughts not based purely on Wikipedia articles if possible? –  MathsStudent Jun 27 '11 at 12:41
    
Duplicate: physics.stackexchange.com/questions/11670/… The same person asked essentially the same question twice. These should be merged. –  Ben Crowell Aug 19 '11 at 20:25
    
I think her processing techniques for bitchblend where an important part contributing the further research by pthers. –  ja72 Mar 8 '13 at 18:41
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Not an expert here but I think it went something like this:

Her research established the techniques and methods that other physicists like Rutherford needed to probe the internal structure of the atom. The concept of an atom (I believe) was postulated at the time but not really taken seriously. Certainly there was no real concept of an atom's internal structure. The energy contained in the radioactivity had to come from somewhere. Finding out where it came from through experimental investigation of the radioactivity was really the start of atomic physics and paved the way for the development of modern phyiscs. The subsequent research changed the way we think about matter.

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To quote Cornell University professor L. Pearce Williams (was on wikipedia):

"The result of the Curies' work was epoch-making. Radium's radioactivity was so great that it could not be ignored. It seemed to contradict the principle of the conservation of energy and therefore forced a reconsideration of the foundations of physics. On the experimental level the discovery of radium provided men like Ernest Rutherford with sources of radioactivity with which they could probe the structure of the atom. As a result of Rutherford's experiments with alpha radiation, the nuclear atom was first postulated. In medicine, the radioactivity of radium appeared to offer a means by which cancer could be successfully attacked." -

"Radium Emanations" or radon was also used as a source of x-rays for medical imaging.

Part of the reason for her continued scientific stature results from her fame in popular culture as pre-dating the feminist movement and became a martyr. Marie Curie died of aplastic anemia contracted from exposure to radiation. I know this last part has little to do with physics, but name recognition contributes to her influence.

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Her achievements include a theory of radioactivity (a term that she coined[2]), techniques for isolating radioactive isotopes, and the discovery of two elements, polonium and radium. Under her direction, the world's first studies were conducted into the treatment of neoplasms, using radioactive isotopes. She founded the Curie Institutes: the Curie Institute (Paris) and the Curie Institute (Warsaw).

her husband and his brother had invented the electrometer, a sensitive device for measuring electrical charge. Using the Curie electrometer, she discovered that uranium rays caused the air around a sample to conduct electricity.[16] Using this technique, her first result was the finding that the activity of the uranium compounds depended only on the quantity of uranium present. She had shown that the radiation was not the outcome of some interaction of molecules, but must come from the atom itself. In scientific terms, this was the most important single piece of work that she conducted.[17]

--copied from wikipedia

I guess fills some of the void

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