MARIE CURIE (1867-1934) PIERRE CURIE (1859-1906)

1898-1902 – France

‘Pitchblende, the ore from which uranium is extracted, is much more radioactive than pure uranium. The ore must therefore contain unknown radioactive elements’

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MARIE CURIE

Following the discovery of radioactivity by HENRI BECQUEREL in 1896, Marie Curie conclusively proved that radioactivity is an intrinsic property of the element in question and is not a condition caused by outside factors.

She correctly concluded that pitchblende contained other, more radioactive elements than uranium.

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PIERRE CURIE

The Curies isolated two new radioactive elements, polonium and radium, from pitchblende. The discovery of new elements by their radioactivity was proof that radioactivity was a property of atoms.

Even today, Marie Curie’s notebooks of her studies remain too radioactive to handle.

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ANTOINE-HENRI BECQUEREL (1852-1908)

1898 – France

ca. 1890s-1900s --- Henri Becquerel, Nobel Prize Winner in Physics --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

HENRI BECQUEREL

‘1903 – Awarded the Nobel-Prize for Physics jointly with Marie and Pierre Curie’

picture of a rock displaying fluorescence under short wavelength radiation

The phenomenon of fluorescence – displayed under short wavelength radiation

Stimulated by WILHELM CONRAD ROENTGEN’s discovery of X-rays in 1895, Becquerel chanced upon the phenomenon that is now known as radioactivity in 1896. The Frenchman believed that Röntgen’s X-rays were responsible for the fluorescence displayed by some substances after being placed in sunlight. Although he was wrong to assume that fluorescence had anything to do with X-rays, he tested large numbers of fluorescent minerals.

He found that uranium, the heaviest element, caused an impression on a covered photographic plate, even after being kept in the dark for several days, and concluded that a phenomenon independent of sunlight induced luminescence.
Investigation isolated the uranium as the source of ‘radioactivity’, a name given to the occurrence by Mme. Curie.

The SI unit of radioactivity, the becquerel is named in his honour.

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