February 4th, 1936 – Synthetic Radium

Today-In-History

On February 4th, 1936, radium became the first radioactive element to be made synthetically.

radium Ray

Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) suffers the effects of the fictional Radium X.

Radium, in the form of radium chloride, was discovered by Marie Curie and Pierre Curie in 1898. They extracted the radium compound from uraninite and published the discovery at the French Academy of Sciences five days later. Radium was isolated in its metallic state by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of radium chloride in 1910.

In nature, radium is found in uranium and (to a lesser extent) thorium ores in trace amounts as small as a seventh of a gram per ton of uraninite. Radium is not necessary for living organisms, and adverse health effects are likely when it is incorporated into biochemical processes because of its radioactivity and chemical reactivity. Currently, other than its use in nuclear medicine, radium has no commercial applications; formerly, it was used as a radioactive source for radioluminescent devices and also in radioactive quackery for its supposed curative powers. Today, these former applications are no longer in vogue because radium’s toxicity has since become known, and less dangerous isotopes are used instead in radioluminescent devices.

Only two weeks before the discovery of making synthetic radium, Universal Picture released the film The Invisible Ray on January 20th, 1936.

The_Invisible_Ray_poster 680

In this science fiction horror film, a visionary doctor, Dr. Janos Rukh (Boris Karloff) invents a telescope that can look far out into space — into the Andromeda Galaxy — and pick up rays of light that will show the Earth’s past. Looking at the past on a planetarium-like dome in his lab, a group of assembled scientists as well as Dr. Rukh see a large meteor hit the earth thousands of years ago. Amazed by the demonstration, the group invites Rukh to go on an expedition to find the meteor that appeared to land in Africa. While in Africa, Rukh finds the meteor but is exposed to strong radiation (“Radium X“) from the rock, which makes his touch death on the spot. Dr. Benet (Bela Lugosi) develops a serum that holds this effect at bay and takes a piece of the stone back to Europe and uses it to heal people, including curing the blind. Rukh, suffering from the radiation, glows at night when not treated and is slowly losing his mind.

“Today in History” on The Pandora Society dot com is primarily focused on Victorian and Edwardian history and does not always have a direct connection to Steampunk, Dieselpunk, or whatever punk; in fact it rarely does, but it is our hope that in sharing these historical events they might serve as some inspiration to the writers in our community to create potential alternative history stories which we look forward to reading 🙂


 

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