Sunday, June 13, 2010

Camp Curie: Thursday: Chemistry, Math and Physics

Thursday: Chemistry, Math and Physics
Marie Curie  - Radiation, Chemistry, elements
Margaret Joan Geller  - dark matter & energy.  Mapping the universe
Mileva Maric  - Un recognized co-author of Einstein’s discoveries
Dorothy Hodgkin  - Penicillin, B12, and Crystallography – how do we see very small things?
Hypatia - mathematician


Marie Curie (1867-1934), (Marya Skodowska), Physics and Chemistry
Marie Curie was both the first, and second woman to win a Nobel Prize in Science.  She is the only person to win 2 Nobel Prizes in different categories, physics and chemistry.  She was born in Poland, but moved to France when she was 24 because women in Poland were not allowed to go to college.  In 1893, she gets her masters in physics from Sorbonne, University of Paris, and the following year a second masters in mathematics.  She met Pierre Curie there, who at the time was working on crystals and magnetic objects.  When Skodowska planned to return to Poland, Pierre did everything to convince her to stay, which in the end was to propose to her. 
It was the work of Henri Becquerel that gained Marie Curie’s interest when deciding on a topic for her Doctorate work.  Becquerel was working with an ore of uranium, called Pitchblende.  He was working this unknown radiation that came from the ore that could darken photographic film and was able to conduct measurable amounts of electricity through air.  M. Curie decided that she would look for other elements that did this same thing.  Just a few days later she discovers thorium.  At this point, Pierre abandons his work and starts to work with Marie on hers. 
Marie Curie starts comparing the amount of electricity conducted through the air to the mount of radioactive elements present in a compound, and discovers a direct relationship.  The more radioactive elements, the more electricity.  The amount of other non-radioactive elements in the compound had no effect on the amount of electricity emitted.  This was a startling discovery for 2 reasons.  First, that radiation came from the atoms itself and not as a result of some interaction between molecules.  This then points out the second and even more unsettling discovery that atom’s nucleus can decay tossing out the pervious belief that atoms were impermeable to change, nothing lives forever. 
Marie Curie’s discoveries did not end there.  In different samples of pitchblende, she found minerals that gave off 4 times the amount of radiation that they were suppose to, so there had to be yet another source of radiation, and there was.  She discovered the element polonium, 400 times more radioactive than uranium, which she named after her homeland Poland.  She goes on to find another element that gives off even more radiation, one million times more than uranium, which she and Pierre name radium.  In 1902, under barn like laboratory conditions they produce 0.1 grams of pure radium, which wins them both and Becquerel the Nobel Prize the following year. 
It is safe to say that they really didn’t know what they had on their hands.  Both the Curies and their coworkers use to play with the blue glowing radioactive materials, which lead to of many ailments and death of those who worked in these makeshift laboratories.  It was eventually killed Marie Curie when she contracted blood cancer.
When Marie was challenged that radium was not a real element, she made the first pure metal form of it.  1 gram of radium back then cost $100,000,and today that is MUCH MUCH more, so this was an extremely profitable discovery.  In 1911, she alone, received a second Nobel Prize in chemistry.
Marie Curie went on to found the Radium Institute, for research devoted to the study of radioactivity in 1918.  During World War I, she helped her homeland Poland by developing portable x-ray machines that could be taken out onto the battlefield to help assess injuries.  They called these “little Curies”.  Her daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie went on to make many discoveries in physics and chemistry.  She and her husband Fredric Joliot won the Nobel Prize for chemistry for their development of an artificial radioactive element from one that is naturally stable.

“I got the idea that science was an exciting thing to do.”

Margaret Joan Geller (1947 -), Astronomer
Geller’s father was a scientist working with Crystallography, and her mother fueled Geller’s interest in language and art.  It was the combination of these two areas that was the key to Geller’s understanding, and being able to visualize the shape of the universe. 
Originally, it was thought that the galaxies were distributed equally through out the universe.  If there was one central explosion (the Big Bang), there should be a relatively equal distribution radiating away from the center.  Geller’s goal was to create a map of the nearby universe and see what that stellar distribution was.  She made a map of some 1000 galaxies and was astounded to see a universe that looked a lot like a cup full of bubbles.  There were clusters of star systems curving around this black emptiness.  There was nothing there, but the stars were behaving like there was.
This is interesting today because this sort of phenomenon is what we call “dark matter’, or we hypothesis that it is.  A gravitational unknown, Einstein’s cosmological constant, a new sort of matter, no one knows quite yet.  Six years ago we found out that not only was the Universe expanding, it was gaining speed.  This work was completely contradictory to what gravity is supposed to do which is slow things down.  There needs to be this force tearing the galaxies further and further from each other.  For now, they call it dark energy.
Within this last decade even, there have been huge discoveries in the astronomical world. This is one of the most exciting periods of scientific discovery in this field since we found out that the planets, Earth included, rotate around the sun.  It is a great time to be a physicist. 


Mileva Maric  - Un recognized co-author of Einstein’s discoveries



Eleanor Margaret Burbidge  (1919 -?), Astronomer

Born in Brittan, Eleanor Margaret Peachey loved two things, the stars in the sky, and large numbers.  Astronomy was a perfect fit.  After she had gotten her degree, she tried to get some time in on California’s Mount Wilson’s telescope.  She was turned away.  Back then, it was considered scandalous to have women working… at night…. with men….. in remote places….  It had more to do with people’s imaginations than anything else.  Women were either delegated do daytime observations, or paired up together, but were not allowed to leave after work on their own.  It has only been in the last 35 years or so that women have been allowed the same working and telescope access as men in the Astronomy field.
Being turned down at Mount Wilson, Margaret had to find something else to do, so she decided to go back to school and pick up an extra degree in advanced science.  It is there that she met and married Geoffrey Burbidge.  They both went back to Brittan together and joined up with nuclear physicist William Fowler, and astronomer Fred Hoyle developing a theory about how elements, heavier than hydrogen and helium are formed in stars. 
In the end, they determined that just like everything else, stars age, wear out their nuclear fuel and die. As this happens, the star begins to collapse in on itself.  This is such an intense implosion that heavier and heavier elements begin to fuse their atomic nuclei and grow larger and heavier, and thus changing their properties and becoming new elements.  The heaviest elements occur when you have a star that is so large that when its core collapses, like snapping a rubber band, it creates a massive explosion called a Supernova.  Only that sort of intensity can form our heaviest elements.  After Supernova burns it out in one last little hurrah, the gas from this explosion drifts off into space and finds new residence with new stars and planets. 2
They called their theory the B  FH Theory, after the four of them using the first letter of their last names combined.  The theory was good, but now they needed proof.  In 1955, Margaret went back to California and tried to use Mount Wilson’s telescope again.  She was not let in as a scientist, but she was able to sneak in posing as her husband’s assistant, and she then began to photograph the light and color of the stars.  Light travels in waves of different lengths, which can tell you a lot of things.  Is something coming towards you or going away, the temperature of the star; blue being the hottest and red the coldest.  When an element burns, it gives off radiation in the form of light as well.  By looking at the color and measuring the intensity of each star’s brightness she was able to prove their theory.  She spent the rest of her life looking at stars, becoming president of several different astrological associations, taught, and finished up with working on quasars.

other scientists
MATH - the math of Coral

Margaret Wertheim on the beautiful math of coral

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