Radioactivity was discovered in 1896 by the French scientist Henri Becquerel, while working on phosphorescent materials. These materials glow in the dark after exposure to light, and he suspected that the glow produced in cathode ray tubes by X-rays might be associated with phosphorescence. He wrapped a photographic plate in black paper and placed various phosphorescent salts on it. All results were negative until he used uranium salts. The result with these compounds was a blackening of the plate. These radiations were called Becquerel Rays.
It soon became clear that the blackening of the plate had nothing to do with phosphorescence, because the plate blackened when the mineral was in the dark. Non-phosphorescent salts of uranium and metallic uranium also blackened the plate. It was clear that there is a form of radiation that could pass through paper that was causing the plate to become black.
At first it seemed that the new radiation was similar to the then recently discovered X-rays. Further research by Becquerel, Ernest Rutherford, Paul Villard, Pierre Curie, Marie Curie, and others discovered that this form of radioactivity was significantly more complicated. Different types of decay can occur, producing very different types of radiation. Rutherford was the first to realize that they all occur with the same mathematical exponential formula (see below), and Rutherford and his student Frederick Soddy were first to realize that many decay processes resulted in the transmutation of one element to another. Subsequently, the radioactive displacement law of Fajans and Soddy was formulated to describe the products of alpha and beta decay.
The early researchers also discovered that many other chemical elements besides uranium have radioactive isotopes. A systematic search for the total radioactivity in uranium ores also guided Marie Curie to isolate a new element polonium and to separate a new element radium from barium. The two elements' chemical similarity would otherwise have made them difficult to distinguish.
Read more about this topic: Radioactive Decay
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Famous quotes containing the word discovery:
“Your discovery of the contradiction caused me the greatest surprise and, I would almost say, consternation, since it has shaken the basis on which I intended to build my arithmetic.... It is all the more serious since, with the loss of my rule V, not only the foundations of my arithmetic, but also the sole possible foundations of arithmetic seem to vanish.”
—Gottlob Frege (18481925)
“The discovery of the North Pole is one of those realities which could not be avoided. It is the wages which human perseverance pays itself when it thinks that something is taking too long. The world needed a discoverer of the North Pole, and in all areas of social activity, merit was less important here than opportunity.”
—Karl Kraus (18741936)
“That the discovery of this great truth, which lies so near and obvious to the mind, should be attained to by the reason of so very few, is a sad instance of the stupidity and inattention of men, who, though they are surrounded with such clear manifestations of the Deity, are yet so little affected by them, that they seem as it were blinded with excess of light.”
—George Berkeley (16851753)