Marie Curie: Open source pioneer


Part of the reason why radium snake-oil products proliferated in the years after Marie Curie and her husband first isolated the element is that the Curies refused to patent the process and, in fact, shared it with the world, writes Jamie Gallagher at Chemistry World.

On the plus side, this meant that a natural element was (theoretically) available to anyone. On the downside: The aforementioned snake oil boom and an accompanying increase in the value of radium — to the point that the Curies, themselves, were eventually unable to afford to buy any. Then came the crowdfunding campaign.

The radium phenomenon had changed the world, but the style of Marie’s life had changed very little until a chance question during an interview with the leading US journalist Marie Mattingly Meloney: ‘If you had the whole world to choose from, what would you take?’ Her dream sounded simple: ‘I need a gram of radium to continue my researches, but I cannot buy it. Radium is too dear for me.’ In the years since its isolation, the price of a single gram of radium had risen to $100,000. Marie had been left unable to carry on her work, incapable of purchasing the smallest amount of her element.

But the American public warmed to Marie – for her dedication to science; her quest for knowledge and her unstoppable resolve in the face of sexism. Soon a national campaign was underway. Before too long the money was found and Marie was on a boat to America.

Image: Some Rights Reserved by Marshall Astor