THEY WERE GIANTS
OTHA LINTON, MSJ
William Duane About 2 years after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen discovered x-rays in his physics laboratory in Germany, French scientists Henri Becquerel and Pierre and Marie Curie discovered that some minerals contained radioactive energy comparable with the electromagnetic energy of x-rays. In the next few years, the Curies worked with pitchblende to define and extract radioactive substances. Their triumph was the extraction of radium, the most potent energy, which amounted to less than an ounce within a ton of its basic mineral. Radium was a much more powerful radiation source than early xray tubes could produce. It was regarded by doctors who used x-ray sources for imaging and treatment of skin lesions and superficial cancers as a possible source for radiation to penetrate any part of a human body and treat internal cancers. The Curies and others who studied tiny amounts of radium recognized that any radium source constantly emitted a radioactive gas, radon, which could be captured and placed within metal or glass needles to be inserted into tumors for delivery of a desired dose. Then the needles were removed. The Curies in France and Ernest Rutherford in England worked on ways to use radium sources in medicine. One of the most significant pioneers in the United States was William Duane, a physicist who spent most of his career at Harvard University in Boston. He devised and constructed most of the early radon extraction devices. The first one was installed at Memorial Cancer Hospital in New York City, and he consulted with dozens of other hospitals around the country for radon units.
William Duane, a great-greatgrandson of Benjamin Franklin, was born in Philadelphia in 1872. In 1893, 2 years before the discovery of x-rays, he worked with Harvard physics professor John Trowbridge, one of the earliest American scientists to experiment with x-rays after Roentgen’s discovery. Duane earned a master’s degree from Harvard in 1895 and went to Germany, where he received a doctorate in 1897 from the University of Berlin. During his stay, he met the Curies, acquaintances that led to his affiliation with them. With his doctorate, he accepted a faculty appointment at the University of Colorado from 1899 to 1907. Then he returned to Paris as a radium research assistant in the Curie’s laboratory. During his time in Paris, Howard Kelly, the chief of gynecology at Johns Hopkins Medical School, obtained a small amount of radium from the Curies and set up its use in his private office in Baltimore. Professor Duane returned to Harvard in 1913. He was expected to apply what he had learned about radium manipulation and spent most of his career doing so. The first concentration of radium in the United States was given to Memorial Hospital in 1912 by James Douglas, a member of its board and a major benefactor. His mining company began extracting radium from carnotite ore mined in Colorado and gave most of it to Memorial. Professor Duane designed the Memorial radon extraction device in 1914. In 1918, he built a comparable device for the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. When the Harvard Medical School started the Huntington Cancer Hospital at the medical school campus, Dr Duane consulted there. He contin-
ued to help design radon extraction units in Philadelphia, San Francisco, Boston, and other sites in the United States. He was appointed as a radiation physics consultant to Beth Israel Hospital and New England Deaconess Hospital in Boston and other hospitals. Professor Duane’s appointment at Harvard was as a research fellow with its cancer commission. From 1913, he edited the annual report of the Huntington Hospital biophysics laboratories and supervised the function of the radon extraction device he had built for them. In 1919, he offered the first course in biophysics offered at any American institution. The next year, he attracted more than 20 students, some of whom were physicians seeking to specialize in radiotherapy. His annual courses began to attract radiologists. In 1922, the Massachusetts General Hospital acquired 0.25 g of radium and placed it at the Huntington Hospital for safekeeping and radon extraction. By that time, Dr Duane’s son, A. R. Duane, was his primary assistant and his consultant. Dr Duane was active in both the ARRS and the American Radium Society and was the first president of the Society of Cancer Research. In 1928, he participated in the second International Congress of Radiology in Sweden and was a participant in the organization of the International Commission of Radiation Units and Measurement and the International Commission on Radiologic Protection. In 1929, he became a member of the US National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements. William Duane continued to study radium and ionizing radiation after his retirement from Harvard. He died of a stroke in 1935.
Otha Linton, MSJ, 11128 Hurdle Hill Dr, Potomac, MD 20854. 654
© 2010 American College of Radiology 0091-2182/10/$36.00 ● DOI 10.1016/j.jacr.2010.04.016