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Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science

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Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science Cover

 

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Synopses & Reviews

Publisher Comments:

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 continue indefinitely, 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 of matter 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 unprecedented numbers. 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 and awakened 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. Radioactivity profoundly 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.

Synopsis:

Before the hydrogen bomb indelibly associated radioactivity with death, many chemists, physicians, botanists, and geneticists believed that radium might hold the secret to life. Physicists and chemists early on described the wondrous new element in lifelike terms such as "decay" and "half-life," and made frequent references to the "natural selection" and "evolution" of the elements. Meanwhile, biologists of the period used radium in experiments aimed at elucidating some of the most basic phenomena of life, including metabolism and mutation.

From the creation of half-living microbes in the test tube to charting the earliest histories of genetic engineering, Radium and the Secret of Life highlights previously unknown interconnections between the history of the early radioactive sciences and the sciences of heredity. Equating the transmutation of radium with the biological transmutation of living species, biologists saw in metabolism and mutation properties that reminded them of the new element. These initially provocative metaphoric links between radium and life proved remarkably productive and ultimately led to key biological insights into the origin of life, the nature of heredity, and the structure of the gene. Radium and the Secret of Life recovers a forgotten history of the connections between radioactivity and the life sciences that existed long before the dawn of molecular biology.

About the Author

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 History Standards and is a past chair of the Education Committee of the History of Science Society.

Table of Contents

Preface

List of Illustrations

Introduction

I. A NEW SCIENCE

Chapter 1. The Beginnings

The Setting

Rays and Radiation

Becquerel's Discovery

Chapter 2. The Curies

Maria Sk_odowska

A Consequential Meeting

New Elements!

Chapter 3. Rutherford, Soddy, Particles, and Alchemy?

Rutherford and the Rays

Where did the Energy come from?

Material Rays? Discovery of the Beta Particle

Thorium's Rays

Vanishing Radioactivity

Transmutation!

A Missed Discovery

Reactions

Atomic Energy?

Tragedy

More Rays

The Alpha Particle

Chapter 4. The Radioactive Earth

The Prospectors

How Old is the Earth?

A New Property of Matter?

Chapter 5. Speculations

Early Theories

Radioactivity and Probability

Kinetic Models of the Atom

Chapter 6. Radioactivity and Chemistry

The Rise of Radiochemistry

Radioactive Genealogy

Chemistry of the Imponderable

Inseparable Radioelements

Isotopes

Displacement Laws

The End of the Lines

More Isotopes

Chapter 7. Inside the Atom

Building Blocks

Bombarding Atoms

The Nucleus and the Periodic Table

The Gamma Rays

Theories of the Nucleus

Chapter 8. Sequel

War!

Radioactivity during World War I

From Radioactivity to Nuclear and Particle Physics

II. MEASURING AND USING RADIOACTIVITY

Chapter 9. Methods and Instruments

Crucial Choices

Standardizing the Measures

Innovations

Size, Money, and Machines

Chapter 10. Radioactivity, Medicine, and Life

Unpleasant Surprises

From Burns to Therapy

Rays and other Organisms

Miracle Cure?

Radioactive Spas

Dangers in the Laboratory

Chapter 11. New Industries

Early Industry

Soaring Demand and New Institutions

Paint that Glowed in the Dark

A New Poison

Fission, Bombs, and the Uranium Rush

Radioactivity and the Oil Industry

III. BEYOND THE STORY

Chapter 12. Radioactivity's Prime Movers

Technology, Resources, and Professional Changes

Individuals

Research Groups

Scientific Ideals and Culture

Mentors and Models

Age, Attitudes, and Ambition

Nationalism

Chapter 13. Radioactivity and Timeless Questions: the Quest for Understanding

Models and Theories for Radioactivity

Patterns in Radioactivity's Development

Ideas about Change

Ideas about Matter and Energy

Ideas about Continuity and Discontinuity

Eternal Conundrums

Chapter 14. The Imaginative Appeal of a Discovery

Mythological and Romantic Dimensions of Radioactivity

An Ongoing Task

Appendices

1. Glossary of Rays and Radiations

2. Family Trees for Radioactive Elements

3. Radioactivity's Elusive Cause

4. Nobel Prize Winners Included in this Book

5. Radioactivity's Web of Influence

6. Timeline

Notes

Selected Bibliography

Index

Product Details

ISBN:
9780199766413
Author:
Malley, Marjorie Caroline
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Author:
null, Marjorie C.
Author:
Marjorie Malley C.
Author:
Campos, Luis A.
Author:
Marjorie C. Malley
Subject:
Nuclear Physics
Subject:
Physics
Subject:
Physics-Nuclear
Subject:
History of Science-General
Subject:
Chemistry - Inorganic
Edition Description:
Hardcover
Publication Date:
20110831
Binding:
HARDCOVER
Grade Level:
Professional and scholarly
Language:
English
Illustrations:
26 illus.
Pages:
352
Dimensions:
9 x 6 in

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Radioactivity: A History of a Mysterious Science Sale Hardcover
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Product details 352 pages Oxford University Press - English 9780199766413 Reviews:
"Synopsis" by ,
Before the hydrogen bomb indelibly associated radioactivity with death, many chemists, physicians, botanists, and geneticists believed that radium might hold the secret to life. Physicists and chemists early on described the wondrous new element in lifelike terms such as "decay" and "half-life," and made frequent references to the "natural selection" and "evolution" of the elements. Meanwhile, biologists of the period used radium in experiments aimed at elucidating some of the most basic phenomena of life, including metabolism and mutation.

From the creation of half-living microbes in the test tube to charting the earliest histories of genetic engineering, Radium and the Secret of Life highlights previously unknown interconnections between the history of the early radioactive sciences and the sciences of heredity. Equating the transmutation of radium with the biological transmutation of living species, biologists saw in metabolism and mutation properties that reminded them of the new element. These initially provocative metaphoric links between radium and life proved remarkably productive and ultimately led to key biological insights into the origin of life, the nature of heredity, and the structure of the gene. Radium and the Secret of Life recovers a forgotten history of the connections between radioactivity and the life sciences that existed long before the dawn of molecular biology.

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