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24-Aug-2020 23:40

She was fascinated by Antoine-Henri Becquerel's discovery that uranium minerals can emit rays that are able to expose photographic film, even if the mineral is wrapped in black paper.

Using an electrometer invented by her husband Pierre and his brother Jacques that measured the electrical conductivity of air (a precursor to the Geiger counter), she was able to show that thorium also produced these rays—a process that she called radioactivity.

De Hevesy also is credited with discovering the technique of neutron activation analysis, in which samples are bombarded by neutrons in a nuclear reactor or from a neutron generator, and the resulting radioactive isotopes are measured, allowing the analysis of the elemental composition of the sample.

In Germany in 1938, Otto Hahn and Fritz Strassmann, skeptical of claims by Enrico Fermi and Irène Joliot-Curie that bombardment of uranium by neutrons produced new so-called transuranic elements (elements beyond uranium), repeated these experiments and chemically isolated a radioactive isotope of barium.

Seaborg and coworkers went on to discover many more new elements and radioactive isotopes and to study their chemical and physical properties.

Modern nuclear chemistry, sometimes referred to as radiochemistry, has become very interdisciplinary in its applications, ranging from the study of the formation of the elements in the universe to the design of radioactive drugs for diagnostic medicine.

In fact, the chemical techniques pioneered by nuclear chemists have become so important that biologists, geologists, and physicists use nuclear chemistry as ordinary tools of their disciplines.

While the common perception is that nuclear chemistry involves only the study of radioactive nuclei, advances in modern mass spectrometry instrumentation has made chemical studies using stable, nonradioactive isotopes increasingly important.

De Hevesy did not succeed in this task (we now know that radium-D is the radioactive isotope Pb to measure the solubility of lead salts—the first application of an isotopic tracer technique.

De Hevesy went on to pioneer the application of isotopic tracers to study biological processes and is generally considered to be the founder of a very important area in which nuclear chemists work today, the field of nuclear medicine.

Today, scientists ranging from astrophysicists to marine biologists use the principles of radiometric dating to study problems as diverse as determining the age of the universe to defining food chains in the oceans.



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