Marie Curie conducted some of the first research into radioactivity. A chemist and a physicist, she found that certain elements break down over time and, in the process, release energy. In 1903, Curie became the first woman to win a Nobel Prize for her discovery of the radioactive element polonium (Po). She later won a second Nobel for isolating radium (Ra)—another radioactive element.
Curie’s work opened new possibilities in the field of medicine. For example, X-ray images that show the inside of people’s bodies rely on radiation. The discovery of radioactivity also led to new ways to produce energy.
Anne White, a physicist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is a leading expert in nuclear fusion—a reaction in which atoms fuse together and release energy. Nuclear fusion could produce an almost unlimited amount of power. And it wouldn’t create hazardous waste like current nuclear power plants that rely on nuclear fission, or splitting atoms to create energy, do.
Nuclear fusion generates temperatures up to six times as hot as the sun’s core. This amount of energy is extremely difficult to contain. White, though, thinks nuclear fusion has the potential to become a revolutionary energy source and is developing ways to make that possible.