Sunday, March 2, 2014

This Day in Science History - March 1 - Discovery of Radioactivity

On March 1, 1896, Antoine Henri Becqurel discovered radioactivity. Earlier in the week he planned an experiment to expose sunlight to uranium and then store the uranium in a black bag with a photographic plate. Earlier trials of the experiment resulted in an image of the uranium crystals on the photograph. He believed uranium absorbed sunlight and released the energy slowly by fluorescence. He planned to repeat his experiment on February 26, but it was cloudy with little sunlight. Becqurel decided to postpone his test and placed his uranium and photographic plate in a black bag and stored it in his desk.

When the weather cleared, he collected his materials to perform his experiment and discovered his photographic plate contained a clear image of the uranium crystals. The uranium did not need an external source to produce the image, but something inside the uranium gave off energy.

This discovery marks the beginning of the nuclear age and would earn Becqurel the 1903 Nobel Prize in Physics.

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