Radium is a radioactive chemical element which has the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. Its appearance is almost pure white, but it readily oxidizes on exposure to air, turning black. Radium is an alkaline earth metal that is found in trace amounts in uranium ores. It is extremely radioactive. Its most stable isotope, , has a half-life of 1602 years and decays into radon gas.
The heaviest of the alkaline earth metals, radium is intensely radioactive and resembles barium in its chemical behavior. This metal is found in tiny quantities in the uranium ore pitchblende, and various other uranium minerals. Radium preparations are remarkable for maintaining themselves at a higher temperature than their surroundings, and for their radiations, which are of three kinds: alpha particles, beta particles, and gamma rays. Radium also produces neutrons when mixed with beryllium.
When freshly prepared, pure radium metal is brilliant white, but blackens when exposed to air (probably due to nitride formation). Radium is luminescent (giving a faint blue color), reacts violently with water and oil to form radium hydroxide and is slightly more volatile than barium. The normal phase of radium is a solid.
Some of the few practical uses of radium are derived from its radioactive properties. More recently discovered radioisotopes
, such as and , are replacing radium in even these limited uses because several of these isotopes are more powerful emitters, safer to handle, and available in more concentrated form.
When mixed with beryllium it is a neutron source for physics experiments.
Radium was formerly used in self-luminous
paints for watches, nuclear panels, aircraft switches, clocks, and instrument dials. More than 100 former watch dial painters
who used their lips to shape the paintbrush died from the radiation from the radium that had become stored in their bones. Soon afterward, the adverse effects of radioactivity became widely known. Radium was still used in dials as late as the 1950s. Although tritium's beta radiation
is potentially dangerous if ingested, it has replaced radium in these applications.
During the 1930s it was found that workers' exposure to radium by handling luminescent paints caused serious health effects which included sores, anemia and bone cancer. This use of radium was stopped soon afterward. This is because radium is treated as calcium by the body, and deposited in the bones, where radioactivity degrades marrow and can mutate bone cells. The litigation and ultimate deaths of five "Radium Girl" employees who had used radium-based luminous paints on the dials of watches and clocks had a significant impact on the formulation of occupational disease labor law.
Radium was also put in some foods for taste and as a preservative, but also exposed many people to radiation. Radium was once an additive in products like toothpaste, hair creams, and even food items due to its supposed curative powers. Such products soon fell out of vogue and were prohibited by authorities in many countries, after it was discovered they could have serious adverse health effects. (See for instance Radithor.) Spas featuring radium-rich water are still occasionally touted as beneficial, such as those in Misasa, Tottori, Japan.
Radium (usually in the form of radium chloride) is used in medicine to produce radon gas which in turn is used as a cancer treatment. The isotope is currently under investigation for use in medicine as cancer treatment of bone metastasis.
Radium (Latin radius
, ray) was discovered
by Marie Skłodowska-Curie
and her husband Pierre
in 1898 in pitchblende from North Bohemia
, in the Czech Republic (area around Jáchymov
). While studying pitchblende the Curies removed uranium
from it and found that the remaining material was still radioactive
. They then separated out a radioactive mixture consisting mostly of barium
which gave a brilliant green flame color and crimson carmine spectral lines
which had never been documented before. The Curies announced their discovery to the French Academy of Sciences
on 26 December 1898
In 1902, radium was isolated as a pure metal by Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of a pure radium chloride solution by using a mercury cathode and distilling in an atmosphere of hydrogen gas.
Historically the decay products of radium were known as radium A, B, C, etc. These are now known to be isotopes of other elements as follows:
On February 4, 1936 radium E became the first radioactive element to be made synthetically.
One unit for radioactivity, the non-SI curie, is based on the radioactivity of 226Ra (see Radioactivity).
Radium is a decay product
of uranium and is therefore found in all uranium-bearing ores
. (One metric ton
of pitchblende yields 0.0001 grams
of radium). Radium was originally acquired from pitchblende
ore from Joachimsthal, Bohemia
, in the Czech Republic. Carnotite
sands in Colorado
provide some of the element, but richer ores are found in the Democratic Republic of the Congo
and the Great Lakes
area of Canada
, and can also be extracted from uranium processing waste. Large radium-containing uranium deposits are located in Canada (Ontario
), the United States (New Mexico
, and Virginia
, and in other places.
color flames crimson carmine
(rich red or crimson color with a shade of purple) and give a characteristic spectrum
. Due to its geologically short half life
and intense radioactivity, radium compounds are quite rare, occurring almost exclusively in uranium ores.
See also Radium compounds.
Radium (Ra) has 25 different known isotopes
, four of which are found in nature, with 226
Ra being the most common. 223
Ra and 228
Ra are all generated naturally in the decay of either Uranium
(U) or Thorium
Ra is a product of 238
U decay, and is the longest-lived isotope of radium with a half-life
of 1602 years; next longest is 228
Ra, a product of 232
Th breakdown, with a half-life of 6.7 years.
Radium is over one million times more radioactive than the same mass of uranium
. Its decay occurs in at least seven stages; the successive main products have been studied and were called radium emanation or exradio (now identified as radon
), radium A (polonium
), radium B (lead
), radium C (bismuth
), etc. Radon
is a heavy gas and the later products are solids. These products are themselves radioactive elements, each with an atomic weight a little lower than its predecessor.
Radium loses about 1% of its activity in 25 years, being transformed into elements of lower atomic weight with lead being the final product of disintegration.
The SI unit of radioactivity is the becquerel (Bq), equal to one disintegration per second. The curie is a non-SI unit defined as that amount of radioactivity which has the same disintegration rate as 1 gram of Ra-226 (3.7 x 1010 disintegrations per second, or 37 GBq).
Handling of radium has been blamed for Marie Curie
's premature death.
- Radium is highly radioactive and its decay product, radon gas, is also radioactive. Since radium is chemically similar to calcium, it has the potential to cause great harm by replacing it in bones. Inhalation, injection, ingestion or body exposure to radium can cause cancer and other disorders. Stored radium should be ventilated to prevent accumulation of radon.
- Emitted energy from the decay of radium ionizes gases, affects photographic plates, causes sores on the skin, and produces many other detrimental effects.
- Scientific American (Macklis RM, The great radium scandal. Sci.Am. 1993 Aug: 269(2):94-99)
- Clark, Claudia. (1987). Radium Girls: Women and Industrial Health Reform, 1910-1935. University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 0-8078-4640-6.
- Ken Silverstein, Harper's Magazine, November 1998; The radioactive boy scout: when a teenager attempts to build a breeder reactor - case of David Hahn who managed to secure materials and equipment from businesses and information from government officials to develop an atomic energy radiation project for his Boy Scout merit-badge.
- Decay chains (with some examples including Radium)
- Radium Girls