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Henri Becquerel

Henri BecquerelAKA Antoine Henri Becquerel

Born: 15-Dec-1852
Birthplace: Paris, France
Died: 25-Aug-1908
Location of death: Le Croisic, Brittany, France
Cause of death: unspecified

Gender: Male
Religion: Roman Catholic
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Physicist

Nationality: France
Executive summary: Discoverer of radioactivity

After Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen's discovery of x-rays, French physicist Henri Becquerel noted an unknown energy that was emitted from uranium salts. He left a rock and a well-wrapped photographic plate in his desk drawer and found later that the plate, though unexposed to light, had developed patterns which would ordinarily indicate exposure. Announced in 1896, he had accidentally discovered a new "penetrating ray" that came to be called radioactivity. Almost immediately thereafter, his student Marie Curie and her husband Pierre Curie showed that thorium also emitted what were then called Becquerel rays. Becquerel and the Curies shared the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1903.

In 1900 Becquerel isolated electrons in radiation, and in 1902 he presented the first evidence of radioactive transformation. He also authored detailed studies of the physical properties of cobalt, nickel, and ozone, studied how crystals absorb light, and researched the polarization of light. He is the namesake of the Becquerel, the basic unit of radioactivity used in the international system of radiation units, referred to as "SI" units. From handling radioactive stones he developed serious and recurring burns on his skin, which may have been a contributing factor in what was described in news accounts as his "sudden death" at the age of 55, only twelve years after his discovery of radioactivity.

His father, physicist Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel (1820-1891), invented the phosphoroscope (a device allowing the precise measurement of exposure to light). His grandfather, scientist Antoine César Becquerel (1788-1878) was the discoverer of piezoelectricity (electricity produced by mechanical pressure on certain crystals). His son, physicist Jean Becquerel (1878-1953), explained the rotation of the plane of polarization by a magnetic field. His nephew, biologist Paul Becquerel, (1879-1955), conducted important research in seed protection and naturally-occurring suspended animation.

Father: Alexandre-Edmond Becquerel (physicist, b. 24-Mar-1820, d. 11-May-1891)
Wife: Lucie Zoé Marie Jamin (m. 1874, d. Mar-1878, one son)
Son: Jean Becquerel (physicist, b. 5-Feb-1878, d. 4-Jul-1953)
Wife: Louise Désirée Lorieux (m. 1890)

    High School: Lycée Louis-le-Grand, Paris, France (1872)
    University: École Polytechnique (1874)
    University: BS Civil Engineering, École des Ponts et Chaussées (1877)
    Teacher: Professor of Physics, École Polytechnique (1874-95)
    University: DSc Physics, École Polytechnique (1888)
    Professor: Chief Engineer, École des Ponts et Chaussées (1894)
    Professor: Physics, École Polytechnique (1895-)

    Rumford Medal 1900
    Helmholtz Medal 1901
    Nobel Prize for Physics 1903 (with Pierre Curie and Marie Curie)
    Barnard Medal 1905
    French Administration of Highways and Bridges Chief Engineer (1877-92)
    Accademia dei Lincei
    French Academy of Sciences 1889
    French Academy of Sciences Permanent Secretary (1908)
    Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle 1878
    Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences
    Royal Society Foreign Member
    Units of Measure Becquerel (basic unit of radioactivity)
    Asteroid Namesake 6914 Becquerel
    Lunar Crater Becquerel (40.7° N 129.7° E, 65 km. diameter)
    Martian Crater Becquerel (22.1° N 352° E, 167 km. diameter)
    French Ancestry

Author of books:
Recherches sur les variations des spectres d'absorption dans les cristaux (1887, non-fiction)
Recherches sur l'absorption de la lumière (1888, non-fiction)


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