Nuclear Power Plant Isar, Germany

Antoine-henri Becquerel

Antoine-Henri Becquerel

Antoine-Henri Becquerel studied at the Polytechnic School. In 1875 he entered the department of bridges and roads, and became chief engineer in 1894. In 1892 he succeeded his father in the chair of the Natural History Museum, and in 1895 he became a professor at the Polytechnic School.

He continued his father's studies, and the discovery of X-rays by Röntgen (1896) made Antoine-Henri Becquerel think that this new radiation could be related to fluorescence and phosphorescence.

Henri Becquerel also studied the polarization and absorption of light in crystals.

Finally, his experiments with uranium and the radiation involved would cause death.

The Discovery of Radioactivity

Henri Becquerel carried out several experiments that led him to casually discover that an uranium compound veiled photographic plates wrapped in black paper. Around 1896, Becquerel, who dealt with the study of the action of light on certain substances, as well as the phosphorescence of uranium salts, packed a fragment of rock containing uranium (a uranium salt) in a black paper. In a closet with some photographic plates. After a while, developing the tiles, he noticed that the stones had been printed very accurately.

In this way, Antoine-Henri Becquerel deduced that this phenomenon was characteristic of the uranium atom, thus discovering natural radioactivity. After several experiments, he concluded that natural radioactivity was the property of some substances, such as uranium, radium and polonium to emit radiation without any external cause. He also observed similar properties in X-rays and cathode rays discovered shortly before.

Father of Nuclear Energy

Thanks to his discovery Becquerel became the "father of nuclear energy."

In 1900 he shows with experience that β rays could be diverted in a magnetic field.

Biography of Antoine-henri Becquerel

Antoine-Henri Becquerel was born in Paris in a wealthy family that produced four generations of physicists: Becquerel's grandfather (Antoine César Becquerel), the father (Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel) and the son (Jean Becquerel).

Henri Becquerel began his education by attending Lycée Louis-le-Grand, a preparatory school in Paris. He studied engineering at the École Polytechnique and at the École des Ponts et Chaussées. In 1874, Henri married Lucie Zoé Marie Jamin, who would die giving birth to her son, Jean. In 1890 he remarried Louise Désirée Lorieux.

Career by Henri Becquerel

Becquerel held the chair of physics at the National Museum of Natural History in 1892. Later, in 1894, Henri Becquerel became chief engineer in the Department of Bridges and Roads before beginning his first experiments.

Becquerel began publishing works related to the flat polarization of light, with the phenomenon of phosphorescence and the absorption of light by crystals. Initially, Becquerel also studied the Earth's magnetic fields.

The discovery of spontaneous radioactivity by Becquerel is a famous example of how chance favors the prepared mind. Becquerel had long been interested in phosphorescence, the emission of light of one color after exposure of a body to the light of another color. In early 1896, there was a surge of emotion after the discovery of X-rays by Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen on January 5. During the experiment, Röntgen "discovered that the Crookes tubes he had been using to study cathode rays emitted a new type of invisible ray that was able to penetrate through the black paper."

Becquerel became interested in this discovery during a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences. Immediately, he began looking for a connection between the phosphorescence he had already been investigating and the recently discovered X-rays of Röntgen. Becquerel thought that phosphorescent materials, like some uranium salts, could emit penetrating radiation similar to X-rays when Illuminate with bright sunlight.

In May 1896, after other experiments with non-phosphorescent uranium salts, he came to the correct explanation: the penetrating radiation came from the uranium itself, without the need for excitation by an external energy source. A period of intense research on radioactivity followed.

Becquerel's other experiments allowed him to investigate more about radioactivity and discover different aspects of the magnetic field when radiation is introduced into the magnetic field. "When different radioactive substances were placed in the magnetic field, they deviated in different directions or were not shown, showing that there were three kinds of radioactivity: negative, positive and electrically neutral."

Later in his life in 1900, Becquerel measured the properties of beta particles and realized that they had the same measurements as high-speed electrons leaving the nucleus of the atom.

In 1901, Antonie-Henri Becquerel discovered that radioactivity could be used for medicine. Henri made this discovery when he left a piece of radio in his vest pocket and noticed that it had been burned.

This discovery led to the development of the application of nuclear energy related to medicine. Currently, one of the treatments for cancer is radiation therapy.

Becquerel's Death

Becquerel did not survive much longer after his discovery of radioactivity. Finally, he died on August 25, 1908, at the age of 55, in Le Croisic, France.

His death was caused by unknown causes, but it was reported that "he had developed severe skin burns, probably due to the handling of radioactive materials."


Published: April 17, 2013
Last review: June 19, 2019