Tag Archives: Radioactivity

Google Honors Madame Marie Curie With A Doodle On Her Birthday

She is the epitome of true grit, all packaged in a gentle feminine form. A scientist par excellence, a double Nobel Prize winner, a pioneer on many fronts and an exemplary human being, Madame Marie Curie showed how much a human can endure and still succeed! Today is her birthday and Google duly honours her with a doodle.

Madame Curie

The doodle is a simple image of Curie holding up a flask with a fixed chemical apparatus on the table in front of her. Her work, involving the extraction of minute quantities of radium and polonium from uranium ores, must have involved more complicated apparatus setups. Click on the doodle and you’ll be redirected to a page returning the search results to her name. The doodle is a simple one, a humble offering of respect, just like Marie Curie might have wanted to be.

Her Life

Born in Poland on this day in 1867, she was the fifth and youngest child. Tragedies in her life started early, when she lost her mother at an early age, followed by her elder sister. Jolted twice, she renounced her faith (Catholicism) and became agnostic. Her academic pursuits would take her to Sorbonne; there she would obtain a degree in math. She would also start working with magnetism, which would eventually prove a great source of attraction between her (then Marie Sklodowska) and her future husband Pierre Curie.

The Physics and Chemistry that she did

The physics world was rocked by the discovery of unknown rays given off by certain substances in the late 1890’s. It was Becquerel’s seminal discovery of radioactivity that set Marie and Pierre on a hunt for a new element radium! Nothing was known about radioactivity not even the harm that it does.

Madame Marie Curie and Pierre Curie together in the lab

From a ton of pitch blende (Uranium dioxide – ore from which Uranium is extracted), less than one-tenth of a gram of radium chloride was extracted. This was 1898. Polonium, discovered by the Curies in the previous year, was easier to extract. Both were much more radioactive than Uranium. Madame Curie wrote a characteristically tepid sentence, which was immensely insightful:

The fact is very remarkable, and leads to the belief that these minerals may contain an element which is much more active than uranium.

Becquerel was her doctoral advisor; she obtained her DSc from the University of Paris in 1903. In the same year, she received her first Nobel Prize – in Physics and with Pierre Curie and Henri Becquerel.

Struggle

Her struggle restarted in 1906 with the death of her husband. She continued her work, but failed to get a position at the University of Paris, just because women were disallowed from such a position. She was, however, received with honour at Sorbonne, the first woman to hold the post of a professor.

She was attacked by her detractors and there were many when news about her alleged affair with Paul Langevin surfaced in 1910-11. In 1911, she received her second Nobel Prize this time in Chemistry and alone!

The 1911 Solvay conference, one of the most prestigious meetings of scientists in history. Seated, second from right is Madame Curie. Note the young Einstein standing on the right.

Legacy

She would die in 1936 due to the very radiation that made her a celebrity. She campaigned widely for more funding for radium research. She founded the Curie Institute, which produced more Nobel Laureates, including her daughter Irene Joliet-Curie and son-in law Frederic Joliot-Curie.

Madame Marie Curie is a symbol today, a reminder that science is not merely a great idea occurring inside the head of a genius. It’s a body of knowledge, requiring immense dedication, sometimes even courage, to acquire.

Madame Marie Curie, on your birthday, we salute you!

Typhoon Roke Hits Japan, Moving Towards Fukushima And Tokyo

Typhoon Roke has just hit Japan! The first few news reports and photos are just coming out.  Typhoon Roke made landfall at Hamamatsu, just south east of the industrial city of Aichi, and this is its current location. It is on course for Fukushima, the city housing the troubled Daichi nuclear power plant. Tokyo might be hit too. Roke is expected to reach Fukushima in another two days time. The wind speed is 100 mph.  

We had warned about the approach of this storm in a previous post here.

Landfall and destruction

Unlike Irene, which fizzled out as it made landfall, Roke did not die. It has caused heavy rains on the coastal region. High speed winds have caused enough destruction on their own. All operations at sea have been discontinued for the coming days.

Sea surge caused due to Typhoon Roke (Courtesy: The Telegraph, Associated Press)

Initial reports indicate that at least 4 people have died in this initial spell of rain. This number, no doubt, will rise as more is known of the storm’s devastation. Aichi has been largely evacuated. The overflowing of the river that flows over Aichi has caused widespread flooding in the city.

Photos from the first few hours:  http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/picturegalleries/worldnews/8778887/Typhoon-Roke-hits-Japan.html
The current position of the eye of Typhoon Roke, just south of the main island of Honshu. (Courtesy: The Weather Channel)

Fukushima and the Nuclear Worry

The biggest worry is Fukushima and the damaged nuclear power plant. Radioactive material will over flow into the sea and the surrounding areas due to the heavy downpour. Officials had begun preparations for the approach of the storm a few days back and are continuing to reinforce the defences of the nuclear power plant. Cables have been tied down and maximum effort is being put to ensure that no radioactive water leaks onto the habitable areas.

Dai’chi Plant Was Dumping Radioactive Waste Into Sea:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/japan-nuclear-radioactive-fears.html
Measuring Radiation: How Much Radiation is Too Much? :  http://techie-buzz.com/science/radiation-risks.html

The Japanese Meteorological Department has advised the highest level of caution to be used due to heavy rains, strong winds and high waves. Very heavy rains are expected in the coming days with as much as 5 cm in one hour!

These are just initial reports. We’ll continue tracking the storm, as it makes its way towards Fukushima with no expected loss in intensity.

We wish our beloved Japan the very best. It has been through worse in history, and it could fight back every single time. We know that this will be no exception.

Link to a previous post:  http://techie-buzz.com/science/typhoon-roke-japan.html

Japan’s Nuclear Problem: Fukushima Situation Worse Than Thought, But It’s Not Chernobyl

The situation at the Fukushima Dai’chi nuclear power plant of Japan has just been reported to be worse than previously estimated, but still nowhere close to Chernobyl. A couple of days back, on 12th April, the Japanese Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency reviewed the situation and updated their previous rating of 5 to a maximum of 7 on the International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale (INRES). The only incident in history to get the rating of 7 is Chernobyl.

Nuclear Danger Symbol

What is INRES?

The INRES scale is a scale used by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to gauge and compare the different incidents of radioactive spillage or similar disasters. A low rating on the scale involves the misplacement of small doses of lightly radioactive substances and small radioactive doses, which can be easily washed off’. A high rating, like that of Chernobyl, involves a widespread spillage or release of high amounts of radioactive substances into the air or into the sea. The rating can be done for an entire disaster site or for certain specific areas of the site.

Chernobyl
Chernobyl

Ratings since the tsunami

The INRES ratings have changed a number of times since the tsunami struck the plant. Earlier each of the cores had been rated with a 5, meaning that they posed a danger of emitting large amounts of radioactive material, if not handled with utmost care. The recent ratings were given for the entire plant, and not just of the reactors, adjusting to the spread of radioactive materials in the air and the dumping of the same into the neighbouring sea. It also recognises the fact that the entire area needs to be treated with considerable caution and not just the reactor cores.

Comparisons with Chernobyl

Given that, before Fukushima, Chernobyl was the only incident to score a 7 on this scale, the comparisons are inevitable, but, many experts feel, unfair. Most of the radioactive material released has been towards the Pacific Ocean, where it has no chances of poisoning human habitat areas. Further, the radioactive wastes that have been dumped into the ocean pose quite little threat due to the high degree of dilution. This has called into question the validity and the use of the rating system, especially when it has high potential of misleading the public.

Workers at Fukushima

Cleaning up the mess

Cleaning up the Fukushima mess may take more than 10 years, experts feel. The immediate concern is cooling the core with sufficient water, all the while keeping it submerged. This involves pumping water in and out periodically, and then disposing the lightly radioactive water into the sea. The core is kept under about 20 feet of water, which also helps in shielding the radiations from the core. Japanese authorities are also considering using robots for cleanup of the innermost parts of the reactors, but nothing has been implemented as yet.

The situation is more stable than a few days back and the reactors are no longer throwing up new surprises. The cooling system is being repaired and should be operational soon.