The substance alleged to have been used to assassinate Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004 is a radioactive element discovered by the famed scientific duo of Marie and Pierre Curie more than a century ago.
Arafat’s nephew Nasser al-Qidwa claimed Thursday that Israel poisoned the former Palestinian Liberation Organization chairman with the lethal dose of polonium, discovered by the Curies in 1898 and named for Marie Curie’s native land of Poland.
Polonium was the first element discovered by the Curies while they were investigating the cause of radioactivity in pitchblende, a uranium-rich mineral and ore.
Pitchblende, after removal of the radioactive elements uranium and thorium, was found to be more radioactive than both the uranium and thorium combined. This spurred the Curies to find additional radioactive elements.
The Curies first culled out polonium from the pitchblende, and a few years later also isolated radium, according to science writer John Emsley in his book Nature’s Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements.
The choice of the name Polonium was not without controversy.