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Dear Marie Curie,

What is radiation and how did you discover it?

Thank you,

Andrew Mayne

Dear Andrew,

The history of radioactivity is a very long one. I began with the studies of the physical properties of the radioactive substances. The number of the radioactive atoms was very small, and the number of chemically inert radioactive elements very large. The radioactive elements were at that time regarded as of a similar character with the chemically inert ones.

The science of radioactivity seemed to have no future, and I almost decided to abandon the studies, when the thought came to me to examine what happens to the substances which we make radioactive. If a radioactive substance loses a part of its radioactivity, must it not be because the atoms of the substance have changed? We must get the radioactive substance into a new chemical state to make it lose its radioactivity.

These ideas gave me new courage, and encouraged me to continue my research.

I soon discovered that the atoms of the radioactive substances were splitting up into atoms of various lighter elements.

I called the process ‘nuclear disintegration’. This was what I was looking for. I named the radiation which accompanied the disintegration, ‘disintegration rays’.

Your affectionate

Marie Curie