Quantum and Nuclear

Becquerel’s serendipity

Stories from Physics for 11-14 14-16 16-19 IOP RESOURCES

Serendipity sometimes plays a role in the development of physics, for instance in the case of Henri Becquerel’s discovery of radiation. The French physicist had assumed that sunlight was involved in uranium-enriched crystals’ ability to expose photographic plates. A period of inclement weather forced Becquerel to pause his experiments so he placed his crystal and plate in a closed drawer. On removing them, he was surprised to find the fogging effect continued in the absence of light, leading him to hypothesise a novel explanation for the phenomenon: radioactive decay.


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