Nuclear Power Plant Isar, Germany

Spent nuclear fuel pool

Turbine of a nuclear plant

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 Museum of Natural History, and in 1895 he became professor of 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 He also studied the polarization and absorption of light in crystals.

Finally, his experiments with uranium and the radiation it entailed would cause him to die.

The discovery of radioactivity

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

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.

In the year 1900 he shows with experience that the 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: the grandfather of Becquerel (Antoine César Becquerel), the father (Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel) and the son (Jean Becquerel).

Henri Becquerel began his education by attending the Lycée Louis-le-Grand school, a preparatory school in Paris. He studied engineering at the École Polytechnique and 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.

Henri Becquerel's professional career

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 Highways before beginning his first experiments.

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

The discovery of spontaneous radioactivity by Becquerel is a famous example of how chance favors the prepared mind. Becquerel had been interested for a long time in the phosphorescence, the emission of light of a color after the exposure of one body to the light of another color. In early 1896, there was a wave of excitement 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 the cathode rays emitted a new type of invisible beam that was able to penetrate through the black paper."

Becquerel became interested in this discovery during a meeting of the French Academy of Sciences. Next, he began to search 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 They illuminate with bright sunlight.

In May 1896, after further 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. There followed a period of intense research on radioactivity.

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 were diverted in different directions or were not shown, showing that there were three classes of radioactivity: negative, positive and electrically neutral."

Later in his life in 1900, Becquerel measured the properties of the beta particles and realized that they had the same measurements as the high-speed electrons that left 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 the pocket of his vest 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 radiotherapy.

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."

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Last review: June 19, 2019