Antoine Henri Becquerel

Dr Daniel J Bell and Andrew Murphy et al.

Antoine H Becquerel (1852-1908) was a French scientist renowned for his work and subsequent discovery into the evidence of radioactivity for which he was awarded a Nobel Prize.

Antoine Henri Becquerel was born on the 15th December 1852 in Paris, France to a family of nobility and active scientific history. He received his scientific education at the Ecole Polytechnique completing it in 1874. By 1895 he sat as the Chairman of Physics at the Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, a title previously held by his father 1.

Becquerel's initial research explored natural phosphorescence of materials exposed to visible light. He would wrap a photodetector in black paper and phosphorescent materials in an attempt to create a pattern (figure 2), proposing that these materials would emit x-ray-like radiation when they are exposed to sunlight. Becquerel conducted these experiments in both full sun days and cloudy days, expecting a difference in pattern; however, he found the patterns on the photodetector to be similar. 

Upon further experimentation, involving uranium salts, Becquerel concluded that these materials were emitting energy without any extrinsic excitation based on the lack of variability in the photodetector pattern relative to the experimental conditions (light, no light).

This serendipitous discovery saw Becquerel work alongside Marie Skłodowska-Curie for many years into the theory of radioactivity, eventually sharing a Nobel Prize for Physics for his discovery of radioactivity.

Antoine was first married in 1874 to Lucie Zoé Marie Jamin, whom passed away after giving birth to his first son, Jean Becquerel. He later married again to Louise Désirée Lorieux in 1890. 

Antoine Henri Becquerel died on the 25th August in 1908 in Le Croisic, Brittany, France.

  • Rumford medal, 1900
  • Nobel Prize in Physics, 1903
  • Barnard medal, 1905
  • discovered radioactivity
  • the SI unit for radioactivity, the becquerel, was named in his honor.
History of radiology
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Article information

rID: 59115
Section: Physics
Synonyms or Alternate Spellings:
  • Henri Becquerel
  • Becquerel (physicist)

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Cases and figures

  • Figure 1: Antoine Henri Becquerel c.1905
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  • Figure 2: photographic plate made by Becquerel showing effects of exposure to radioactivity
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