|8/5/2015 by mdc|
|In 2009, Andrew Liptak reviewed a new book on uranium. Tom Zoellner engaging book, Uranium, reveals how this once-humble element transformed human civilization. Uranium was considered a useless material until very recently in human history, when it quite literally exploded into the public consciousness, then became Atoms for Peace.|
Zoellner has put together a fun and informative tale of humankind interactions with one of the most interesting elements, including some interesting insights into uranium that go far beyond its use in nuclear warheads.
Zoellner explains that uranium was discovered in the ancient world, but was thrown out as a tailing from silver mining. Not until the eighteenth century that any practical use for uranium was discovered, when it was used as an agent to color glass. In 1789, a chemist named Martin Klaproth formally discovered the properties of uranium, naming it after a recently discovered planet in the solar system. But in 1896 that the destructive properties of the element were named, by a science fiction writer named Herbert George Wells, who came up with a story called The World Set Free, featuring an element that when broken apart, yielded an incredible amount of energy. He had inadvertently predicted just what uranium would be known for, a few short decades later.
But uranium was not seen as a harmful substance when first examined, although the properties of radiation were discovered early on by chemist Henry Becuquerel, when the element began to cloud his photographs, even out of the sunlight. His discoveries would attract another pair of scientists, Marie Sklodowska and Pierre Curie, who would eventually marry.
They began to examine uranium and theorized that it was an element that was throwing off particles. In 1903 the two were awarded the Nobel Prize when they discovered that the radiation had the ability to heal, shrinking tumors. A good read.