Who Discovered Radioactivity?

Radioactivity has always been around since it is a natural part of the environment we have. It is said to be emitted by some of those things that we use everyday like the computer monitors and TV screens. Hospitals even use radiation for x-rays and other medical purposes. But who discovered radioactivity and made its usage possible?

The Early Discovery of Radioactivity

A Frenchman named Henri Becquerel is said to be the person who discovered radioactivity. In the year 1896, Becquerel got some naturally fluorescent minerals to be used in an in-depth experiment. The purpose of the experiment was to study the properties of x-rays. The properties were already discovered a year ago by Wilhelm Roentgen, and Becquerel wanted to further examine it.

In the experiment, what Becquerel did first was to expose potassium uranyl sulfate to the rays of the sun believing that the energy of the sun will be absorbed by the uranium and then emit it outwards as x-rays. After exposing the potassium uranyl sulfate, Becquerel put this on some photographic plates that were wrapped in black colored paper.

But because of the natural changes in weather, this experiment failed when it was done in Paris because it was an overcast day.

You may think that failed attempt would let Becquerel give up. However, that is not the case for this person continued to develop the photographic plates.

The next attempt, though, made the images clear and strong, and it successfully proved that uranium actually emitted radiation. Uranium can do this without the help of an outside source to provide the energy like the sun.

This successful experiment was the first discovery of radioactivity which showed its three classes – positive, negative, and neutral radioactivity.

The Introduction of the Term Radioactivity

There was a chemist and physicist named Marie Curie who made a great contribution to the discovery of Becquerel. Curie actually coined the term radioactivity.

Together with Pierre, Marie’s husband, the Curies further examined Becquerel’s discovery. An extraction of uranium was done from ore. And, unexpectedly, the Curies noticed that the remaining ore had more activity than pure uranium.

Based from this observation, the husband-and-wife team concluded that there are other radioactive elements in ore.

After that experiment, the Curies had other discoveries of other elements such as the radium and polonium.

Four more years of work had to be done to process lots of ore for isolating each element in order to understand and determine the chemical properties of each.

The Contribution of another Experimentalist

Aside from Marie Curie (or Madame Curie as known more by others), another experimentalist came to conduct certain experiments relating to radioactivity. This person is none other than New-Zealand-born Ernest Rutherford.

Because of the numerous experiments done, Rutherford was able to examine the properties of radioactivity, and, thus, was able to name these particles, and classify them according to their specifications and abilities. The names given for these properties are alpha, beta, and gamma.

Because of the person who discovered radioactivity, and other contributors who followed, many people now know a little more about radioactivity. Even if it was already part of our atmosphere and environment, there wouldn’t be a greater awareness of its existence if not for Becquerel and the others.

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