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Marie Curie: Why her papers are still radioactive

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(Read caption) Marie Curie works in a laboratory in this undated photo. Google celebrated Marie Curie on its homepage Monday, on the scientist's 144th birthday.

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Many library collections use special equipment, such as special gloves and climate-controlled rooms, to protect the archival materials from the visitor. For the Pierre and Marie Curie collection at France's Bibliotheque National, it's the other way around. 

That's because after more than 100 years, much of Marie Curie's stuff – her papers, her furniture, even her cookbooks – are still radioactive. Those who wish to open the lead-lined boxes containing her manuscripts must do so in protective clothing, and only after signing a waiver of liability.  

Along with her husband and collaborator, Pierre, Marie Curie lived her life awash in ionizing radiation. She would carry bottles of the polonium and radium in the pocket of her coat and store them in her desk drawer. In his 2008 book "The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914" historian Philipp Blom quotes Marie Curie's autobiographical notes, in which she describes the mysterious blue-green lights in her lab:

"One of our joys was to go into our workroom at night; we then perceived on all sides the feebly luminous silhouettes of the bottles of capsules containing our products. It was really a lovely sight and one always new to us. The glowing tubes looked like faint, fairy lights."

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