Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science

Hardcover | July 27, 2011

byMarjorie C. Malley

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This is the story of a new science. Beginning with an obscure discovery in 1896, radioactivity led researchers on a quest for understanding that ultimately confronted the intersection of knowledge and mystery. Mysterious from the start, radioactivity attracted researchers who struggled to understand it. What caused certain atoms to give off invisible, penetrating rays? Where did the energy come from? These questions became increasingly pressing when researchers realized the process seemed to continueindefinitely, producing huge quantities of energy. Investigators found cases where radioactivity did change, forcing them to the startling conclusion that radioactive bodies were transmuting into other substances. Chemical elements were not immutable after all. Radioactivity produced traces ofmatter so minuscule and evanescent that researchers had to devise new techniques and instruments to investigate them. Scientists in many countries, but especially in laboratories in Paris, Manchester, and Vienna unraveled the details of radioactive transformations. They created a new science with specialized techniques, instruments, journals, and international conferences. Women entered the field in unprecedentednumbers. Experiments led to revolutionary ideas about the atom and speculations about atomic energy. The excitement spilled over to the public, who expected marvels and miracles from radium, a scarce element discovered solely by its radioactivity. The new phenomenon enkindled the imagination andawakened ancient themes of literature and myth. Entrepreneurs created new industries, and physicians devised novel treatments for cancer. Radioactivity gave archaeologists methods for dating artifacts and meteorologists a new explanation for the air's conductivity. Their explorations revealed a mysterious radiation from space. Radioactivityprofoundly changed science, politics, and culture. The field produced numerous Nobel Prize winners, yet radioactivity's talented researchers could not solve the mysteries underlying the new phenomenon. That was left to a new generation and a new way of thinking about reality. Radioactivity presents this fascinating history in a way that is both accessible and appealing to the general reader. Not merely a historical account, the book examines philosophical issues connected with radioactivity, and relates its topics to broader issues regarding the nature of science.

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This is the story of a new science. Beginning with an obscure discovery in 1896, radioactivity led researchers on a quest for understanding that ultimately confronted the intersection of knowledge and mystery. Mysterious from the start, radioactivity attracted researchers who struggled to understand it. What caused certain atoms to g...

Marjorie C. Malley was involved with science and mathematics education for many years, including teaching, curriculum development, and consulting. Her publications include articles on radioactivity, luminescence, the nature and history of science, and biographical subjects. Dr. Malley was a member of the review panel for the National...

other books by Marjorie C. Malley

Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science
Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science

Kobo ebook|Aug 25 2011

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Format:HardcoverDimensions:288 pages, 8.25 × 5.5 × 0.98 inPublished:July 27, 2011Publisher:Oxford University PressLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:019976641X

ISBN - 13:9780199766413

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Table of Contents

PrefaceList of IllustrationsIntroductionI: A New Science1. The BeginningsThe SettingRays and RadiationBecquerel's Discovery2. The CuriesMaria SkodowskaA Consequential MeetingNew Elements!3. Rutherford, Soddy, Particles, and Alchemy?Rutherford and the RaysWhere did the Energy come from?Material Rays? Discovery of the Beta ParticleThorium's RaysVanishing RadioactivityTransmutation!A Missed DiscoveryReactionsAtomic Energy?TragedyMore RaysThe Alpha Particle4. The Radioactive EarthThe ProspectorsHow Old is the Earth?A New Property of Matter?5. SpeculationsEarly TheoriesRadioactivity and ProbabilityKinetic Models of the Atom6. Radioactivity and ChemistryThe Rise of RadiochemistryRadioactive GenealogyChemistry of the ImponderableInseparable RadioelementsIsotopesDisplacement LawsThe End of the LinesMore Isotopes7. Inside the AtomBuilding BlocksBombarding AtomsThe Nucleus and the Periodic TableThe Gamma RaysTheories of the Nucleus8. SequelWar!Radioactivity during World War IFrom Radioactivity to Nuclear and Particle PhysicsII: Measuring and Using Radioactivity9. Methods and InstrumentsCrucial ChoicesStandardizing the MeasuresInnovationsSize, Money, and Machines10. Radioactivity, Medicine, and LifeUnpleasant SurprisesFrom Burns to TherapyRays and other OrganismsMiracle Cure?Radioactive SpasDangers in the Laboratory11. New IndustriesEarly IndustrySoaring Demand and New InstitutionsPaint that Glowed in the DarkA New PoisonFission, Bombs, and the Uranium RushRadioactivity and the Oil IndustryIII: Beyond the Story12. Radioactivity's Prime MoversTechnology, Resources, and Professional ChangesIndividualsResearch GroupsScientific Ideals and CultureMentors and ModelsAge, Attitudes, and AmbitionNationalism13. Radioactivity and Timeless Questions: the Quest for UnderstandingModels and Theories for RadioactivityPatterns in Radioactivity's DevelopmentIdeas about ChangeIdeas about Matter and EnergyIdeas about Continuity and DiscontinuityEternal Conundrums14. The Imaginative Appeal of a DiscoveryMythological and Romantic Dimensions of RadioactivityAn Ongoing TaskAppendices1. Glossary of Rays and Radiations2. Family Trees for Radioactive Elements3. Radioactivity's Elusive Cause4. Nobel Prize Winners Included in this Book5. Radioactivity's Web of Influence6. TimelineNotesSelected BibliographyIndex