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What is radium used for?

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Quick Answer

In the early years after it was just discovered, radium was used in consumer products, such as hair tonics and toothpaste. Radium is used in watches, clock faces and aircraft dials, due to its ability to glow in the dark. It is also used in the treatment of cancer.

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Full Answer

Before the dangers of radium were clearly understood it was used in many consumer products ranging from toothpaste to elixirs. Special powers were attributed to it due to the luminescence it produced when mixed with phosphorous. Most of these early uses have now been discontinued. Radium is very useful as luminescent paint and was used until Word War II to make watch, clock and aircraft dials, as well as instruments and other gauges that had to be visible at night. The earliest forms of radiation in cancer treatments also used radium, but this has now largely been replaced by cobalt-60.

Radium can be used in industrial radiography machines in order to detect flaws in metal parts. It can also be added to the tip of a lightning rods, because it ionizes the air around the rod. Neutrons can be created by mixing radium and beryllium. Radium is formed by the decaying of uranium and thorium isotopes in the environment. Radium-226 is created by the decaying of uranium-238. Radium is present in very small concentrations in almost all plants, animals, rocks and water. It was first discovered in pitchblende, a mineral that contains both radium and uranium, in 1898 by the Nobel Prize winner Marie Curie. She was able to isolate elemental radium in 1911.

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