(Roughly) Daily

Posts Tagged ‘radioactivity

“Oh happy people of the future, who have not known these miseries and perchance will class our testimony with the fables”*…



The Plague of Florence as Described by Boccaccio, an etching (ca. early 19th century) by Luigi Sabatelli of a plague-struck Florence in 1348, as described by Petrarch’s friend Giovanni Boccaccio — Source.


The Italian poet and scholar Francesco Petrarch [see almanac entry here] lived through the most deadly pandemic in recorded history, the Black Death of the 14th century, which saw up to 200 million die from plague across Eurasia and North Africa. Through the unique record of letters and other writings Petrarch left us, Paula Findlen explores how he chronicled, commemorated, and mourned his many loved ones who succumbed, and what he might be able to teach us today…

Love, death, and friendship in a time of pandemic: “Petrarch’s Plague.”

* Petrarch, from a 1347 letter to his brother, who lived in a monastery in Montrieux


As we learn from history, we might recall that it was on this date in 1986 that the British government banned the slaughter and movement of lambs in parts of Cumbria, Scotland and Wales; heavy rainfall in those areas had showered fallout from the Cernobyl nuclear disaster onto farms there.  (The transfer of radionuclides to sheep and goat products is greater than to cattle.)  As the ban lifted, animals’ radiation levels were monitored before they were allowed to be sold at market. The number of failing animals peaked in 1992, but some still recorded higher levels of caesium as recently as 2011.

Sheep and Lambs source


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June 13, 2020 at 1:01 am

“Matter is energy waiting to happen”*…


matter abstractions-a-442


Chad Mirkin didn’t set out to discover a new property in matter. But when you’re inventing an alternative to atom-based chemistry, something strange is bound to happen…

While studying materials made from DNA-coated nanoparticles, researchers found a new form of matter– lattices in which smaller particles roam like electrons in metallic bonds: “Strange Metal-like Bonds Discovered in Customized Crystals.”

* Bill Bryson, A Short History of Nearly Everything


As we muse on matter, we might send irradiated birthday greetings to Irène Joliot-Curie; she was born on this date in 1897.  The daughter of Marie Curie and Pierre Curie and the wife of Frédéric Joliot-Curie, she shared a Nobel Prize with her husband for their joint discovery of artificial radioactivity (making the Curies the family with the most Nobel laureates to date).  Both children of the Joliot-Curies, Hélène and Pierre, are also esteemed scientists.

Like her mother, Irène died of leukemia, likely resulting from radiation exposure during her research.

220px-Irène_Joliot-Curie_Harcourt source


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September 12, 2019 at 1:01 am

“Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds”*…


Your correspondent is old enough to remember the Cold War and the Civil Defense efforts (booklets, films, duck-and-cover drills) aimed at “preparing” us for atomic conflict.  It’s a sad sign of our times that they’re re-emerging:  “Where to Hide If a Nuclear Bomb Goes Off In Your Area.”

(If there’s a silver lining in this fallout-laced cloud, it’s that it’s re-directing attention to a problem– a threat– that never actually went away; c.f., Ploughshares.)

* J. Robert Oppenheimer


As we enter the Twilight Zone, we might recall that it was on this date in 1903 that The Times (London) newspaper reported that Marie and Pierre Curie communicated to the Academy of Sciences that the recently discovered Radium…

… possesses the extraordinary property of continuously emitting heat, without combustion, without chemical change of any kind, and without any change to its molecular structure, which remains spectroscopically identical after many months of continuous emission of heat … such that the pure Radium salt would melt more than its own weight of ice every hour … A small tube containing Radium, if kept in contact with the skin for some hours … produces an open sore, by destroying the epidermis and the true skin beneath … and cause the death of living things whose nerve centres do not lie deep enough to be shielded from their influence.

That same year the Curies (and Antoine Henri Becquerel) were awarded the Noble Prize in Physics for their work on radioactivity and radiation.

Marie and Pierre Curie



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March 25, 2017 at 1:01 am

We are collaborators in creation*…

 full image here

Scientists have developed a way to carve shapes from DNA canvases, including all the letters of the Roman alphabet, emoticons and an eagle’s head.

Bryan Wei, a postdoctoral scholar at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, and his colleagues make these shapes out of single strands of DNA just 42 letters long. Each strand is unique, and folds to form a rectangular tile. When mixed, neighbouring tiles stick to each other in a brick-wall pattern, and shorter boundary tiles lock the edges in place…

Read the story on Nature‘s blog (or the full paper in Nature).

As CoDesign observes,

Creating a DNA alphabet was simply a vivid way for the scientists to demonstrate the flexibility and atomic-level accuracy of their system. But you don’t even need a PhD in order to use it, because they also created a graphical user interface that lets anyone with a mouse (and access to an atomic force microscope, the device that “draws” the DNA) sketch out the shape they want without mucking around with code or technical specs.

Still, the DNAlphabet could actually have intriguing applications of its own. Security-minded (or just plain egomaniacal) researchers could use these microscopic structures to watermark their synthetic-biological products, just like that scene in Blade Runner. Even cooler: “One can imagine we can use the shapes as invisible ink in a secret-agent way,” says Wei. “High density information can be delivered in a test tube or simply as powder.”

* “Our duty, as men and women, is to proceed as if limits to our ability did not exist. We are collaborators in creation.”  – Pierre Teilhard de Chardin


As we reach for the tweezers, we might recall that it was on this date that Marie Skłodowska-Curie (AKA Madame Curie) went before the examination committee at the University of Paris for her PhD. She was awarded the degree… and later that year, she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for her work on “radioactivity” (a term she coined).  She became the first female professor at the University, and went on to win another Nobel (the second, in Chemistry)– the first woman to win a Nobel Prize, the only woman to date to win in two fields, and the only person to win in multiple sciences… on the basis of which, in 1995, she became the first woman to be entombed on her own merits in the Panthéon.

Her work was central to a wave of research that enabled the development of x-ray crystallography, the tool used by Rosalind Franklin in making critical contributions to the project that unravelled the fine molecular structures of DNA (for which Crick, Watson, and Wilkins won the Nobel Prize).

Marie Curie


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June 25, 2012 at 1:01 am

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