Tuesday, April 28, 2015

X is for X-rays on Wheels: Inventions by Women A-Z

(1920) Marie Curie 1867-1934
When Germany declared war on France in 1914, the renown physicist-chemist Marie Curie was prepared to do her part. She was even willing to donate her two Nobel Prize gold medals for melting down to assist in the country's metal shortage. The French National Bank refused her offer. 

France had been home to Polish born Maria Salomea Sklodowska since 1895 with her marriage to French scientist Pierre Curie. Together Pierre and Marie shared a Nobel prize in 1903 for their discovery of spontaneous radioactivity. Marie then won a second Nobel Prize in 1911 for her discovery of the elements polonium and radium (she coined the term radioactivity). Both made Marie the first woman to win a Nobel Prize and the first person to receive a second Nobel Prize. She was also the first woman to become a professor at the University of Paris. Marie never filed a patent, for fear it would hinder other researchers from making further discoveries.


Pierre and Marie Curie in their lab
Marie was dedicated to her field and loved working alongside her husband Pierre, but life dealt her a blow with his tragic death in 1906, when the wheels of a horse drawn carriage crushed his skull. Widowed, gifted, and well educated, she was in a position to offer her services during the war. 

Marie saw that the military's health services were in poor shape. She knew that doctors could benefit from X-ray equipment to confirm broken bones and locate bullets and shrapnel in their patients. The French government gave Marie permission to set up France's first military radiology centers, and she became the Director of the Red Cross Radiology Service. With zeal and passion, Marie designed and setup 20 mobile X-ray stations and 200 hospital stations. 

For the mobile units, she began by borrowing Renault trucks from her rich female acquaintances, and convinced automobile body shops to convert the vehicles into medical X-ray labs. She begged manufacturers and other wealthy acquaintances to purchase X-ray equipment and auxiliary generators (a "dynamo,"  worked by the engine, gave the electric current required).

X-rays on Wheels: the petite Curie

The 20 fully equipped mobile units became known as petite Curies (little Curies), or as some call them, X-rays on Wheels. Some 150 women were trained on how to operate the X-ray equipment. Marie too received training, including a lesson on human anatomy, and how to drive the vehicle, change a tire, and repair a engine. Marie visited the battle front with her 17-year-old daughter Irene, who became her faithful assistant and also received training. Approximately 1,000,000 wounded soldiers were examined in the petite Curies and 1.25 million X-ray films taken. Marie traveled all across Northern Europe helping wherever she could.  
  
Irene and Marie Curie at a hospital station
 At the end of WWI, Marie returned to her research of radium. Her exposure to radiation as a result, including her unshielded exposure to radiation in the X-ray stations, caused an early death from aplastic anemia. The effects of radiation were unknown at the time. Her papers written in 1890 are still radioactive and stored in lead-lined boxes, and protection is needed to read them. Even her cookbooks are radioactive. Reading her story, one senses a great purpose in life and a willingness to sacrifice. Her words sum it up beautifully:

 "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this thing must be obtained."
-Marie Curie






 Sources:
http://www.aip.org/history/curie/brief/06_quotes/quotes_12.html
http://www.aip.org/history/curie/war1.htm
http://www.worldwar1.com/tgws/thismonthcurie.htm
http://sierrawyllie.weebly.com/little-curies.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Marie_Curie



Copyright 2015 © Sharon Marie Himsl

37 comments:

  1. She walked the walk. But oh the irony of her death.

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    1. Apparently, she and Pierre both had symptoms of radiation poisoning.

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  2. Most interesting read, and excellently written.
    Yvonne.

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  3. That was a smart invention, indeed. Too bad she didn't invent something to protect her from all of the radiation.

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    1. It seems she ignored the symptoms. She was so passionate about her research and that's what mattered.

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  4. What a beautiful life, and what a sad ending. Her outlook was so inspiring.

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    1. I read some of her autobiography. Very, very interesting....and definitely inspiring!

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  5. Hi Sharon - fascinating X .. I didn't know how Paul had died .. maybe I did but I'd forgotten - and how interesting all her works are radioactive still ..

    She did do us a huge benefit ... and she must have made an enormous difference in the medical world during WW1 ... helping the medics understand the inner workings of those injured .. cheers Hilary

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    1. I only vaguely knew about the Curies. Marie's volunteerism in the war was incredible!

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  6. I love your Marie Curie quote: "Life is not easy for any of us. But what of that? We must have perseverance and above all confidence in ourselves. We must believe we are gifted for something and that this thing must be obtained."
    -Marie Curie

    She was a briliant woman and inspiring for many.
    Maui Jungalow

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    1. Her quote gave me a 'big gulp' when I read it :) I think we should all read her autobiography.

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  7. Fascinating read - really goes well, (in a way) with my X day. (Maybe not).

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  8. She is one of the most well-known. I wonder if the home she lived in is radioactive? I knew about her papers being dangerous but now I wonder about her home. I don't think I would want to visit it

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    1. Golly....I should hope there would be warnings. I bet in the beginning though, there were none.

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  9. Thank you for sharing this story of an inspiring lady.
    As a child, I read a biography of Marie Curie, and I was fascinated with her diligence.

    An A-to-Z participant
    Letters from the Land of Cherry Blossoms

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    1. I'm so interested in reading her biography. It sounds wonderful.

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  10. Marie Curie has been a hero of mine since I read about her as a child - great post! I can't believe that tomorrow's the penultimate day - where did the time go?

    Fee | Wee White Hoose
    Scottish Mythology and Folklore A-Z

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    1. I can see where she would be a hero, and I'm thinking of my granddaughter right now....something for her to read when she's a little older.

      Yes, yes....we are almost there....and I'm ready for a break!!

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  11. Interesting biography and I love the quote.

    Yvonne

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  12. I'm a bit of a biography junkie, and Marie Curie is one of my favorites.

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  13. What a woman, she was not just a gifted scientist and researcher, she was dedicated to using what she learnt for the greater good. And she made the ultimate sacrifice.

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  14. I love this woman. I had no idea she created mobile x-ray trucks during the war, or that she tried to donate her metals. How amazing. For some reason it seems sad that her notes and cookbooks are locked up, but also a true testament to her passion.

    You can find me here:
    ClarabelleRant

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    1. An amazing woman......Thanks for stopping by!

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  15. This woman is an inspiration.
    I wasn't aware of her amazing contribution! Thanks for the education...
    Her final words are so true - each of us has a gift which we need to discover and explore...

    I'm visiting via the A to Z Challenge.
    Writer In Transit

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    1. She's one of my favorites in this series. Thanks Michelle!

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  16. What an inspiration indeed. Agree so with Michelle's comment above. I knew she was a wonderful person, but had no idea she had accomplished so much. Wonderful post, thanks for enlightening us.

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    1. People tell me her biography is inspirng to read. Thanks Sandy!

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  17. Truely a remarkable woman. Of course I knew her, but I didn't know so many of the things you relate here.
    Thanks so much for sharing.

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  18. Thanks Sharon for another amazing woman. I love that quote, I've come across it before. She had a striking face, almost as if she was looking with xray eyes ...

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  19. Wow, I knew about her discoveries, but I never knew about the mobile X-ray trucks - amazing.
    Tasha
    Tasha's Thinkings | Wittegen Press | FB3X (AC)

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