Radium is a chemical element with the symbol Ra and atomic number 88. It is the sixth element in group 2 of the periodic table, also known as the alkaline earth metals. Pure radium is silvery-white, but it readily reacts with nitrogen (rather than oxygen) upon exposure to air, forming a black surface layer of radium nitride (Ra3N2). All isotopes of radium are radioactive, the most stable isotope being radium-226 with a half-life of 1,600 years. When radium decays, it emits ionizing radiation as a by-product, which can excite fluorescent chemicals and cause radioluminescence.
Radium, in the form of radium chloride, was discovered by Marie and Pierre Curie in 1898 from ore mined at Jáchymov. They extracted the radium compound from uraninite and published the discovery at the French Academy of Sciences five days later. Radium was isolated in its metallic state by Marie Curie and André-Louis Debierne through the electrolysis of radium chloride in 1911. In nature, radium is found in uranium ores and (to a lesser extent) thorium ores in trace amounts as small as a seventh of a gram per ton of uraninite. Radium is not necessary for living organisms, and its radioactivity and chemical reactivity make adverse health effects likely when it is incorporated into biochemical processes because of its chemical mimicry of calcium. As of 2014, other than its use in nuclear medicine, radium has no commercial applications. Formerly, around the 1950s, it was used as a radioactive source for radioluminescent devices and also in radioactive quackery for its supposed curative power. These applications have become obsolete owing to radium's toxicity; as of 2020, less dangerous isotopes (of other elements) are instead used in radioluminescent devices.