Accidental Scientific Discovery and Invention - Radioactivity
About the accidental scientific discovery of radioactivity, history and information.
ACCIDENTAL SCIENTIFIC DISCOVERIES
Discoverer: Henri Becquerel, France
How Discovered: Becquerel was intrigued by Roentgen's discovery of X rays. Perhaps light rays could be transformed into deeply penetrating radiations just as (so he believed) cathode rays were converted into X rays. To test his theory, Becquerel wrapped a photographic plate in black paper to protect it from light. On the photographic plate he had placed a crystal of phosphorescent material--by chance containing some uranium--that would fluoresce when exposed to light. But the sun, his source of light, did not shine for several days. So he laid away the crystal on a package of photographic plates which he had stored away from light in a drawer. When Becquerel eventually developed these plates, he was amazed to find that they had been affected. As he wrote, "The silhouette [of the uranium crystal] appeared with great intensity." Some radiation other than light must be responsible. He concluded that the radiations must be coming from a hitherto undiscovered element present in the uranium. At this point Becquerel offered a young, shy, impoverished Polish student the task of searching for this unknown element as her doctoral thesis. So it was that some years later the element radium was discovered. In 1911 Madame Curie became the first woman to win the Nobel Prize for chemistry for her discovery and isolation of the element. But what would have happened if the sun had shone on the days when Becquerel had wanted to carry out his experiments?
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